A Theory About High School Teachers

My wife is studying for her doctorate in Clinical Psychology (PsyD), which means the theory I am about to posit–one that my wife has not heard nor examined for credibility–is totally valid.

Introduction

The great psychologist, Erik “Turn over a new Leif” Erikson, has a famous (albeit controversial) theory about pscyhosocial development. In this theory of development, the growing human has “crises” between two forces that they must resolve at each stage. Though it is not required to master on stage before moving on to the next, I guess it’s probably healthier if one does successfully complete that task.

I dunno. I’m operating off  Psychology 101 in college, an article on Wikipedia, and my wife’s probably-excellent explanations that were lost as my brain fixated on bacon and pizza cravings.

Building from Erikson’s work, I hypothesize the following:  high school teachers find their calling from an unresolved identity crisis in their adolescent years.  Their success as a teacher comes from their ability to resolve that crisis as well as the one specific to early adulthood as soon and as healthily as possible.

Intriguing? I hope so.  Controversial? Probably.  Scientifically valid? You bet your bottom dollar it isn’t.  But maybe I can convince you there’s something worth considering after you read all this.

You will read all this, right?  Good.  Buckle up.

The Findings

High school is a cesspool we all have to swim in to some degree.  Even those people home-schooled had to toe the waters a little bit. It’s the time where everyone’s suffering from “identity confusion” and are surrounded by hundreds of other confused human-sized pimples.  To keep with the liquid metaphor, imagine trying to get a bowl full of water to shape itself into ice while mixing it with other water that is simmering from hormones, Netflix, and Starbucks. Yeah, good luck.

It’s a wonder any of us don’t spontaneously burst into a cloud of steam dissipating in time and space.

But many of us figure ourselves out. However, the teens that go on to be high school teachers often don’t discover themselves until they are thrust back into the petri-dish. It is there, in the halls of adolescence, they either resolve themselves and become the best teachers we’ve ever seen, or they melt back into crisis and infect the hallways and classrooms with their negativity until they dissolve or are washed out.  Put more succinctly: bad teachers are stuck in the same insecurities as they had in high school while good teachers have resolved their crises and are continuously correcting their weaknesses.

The teacher coaching football or cheerleading or running debate or directing plays…they thought they had figured out who they were until they left high school or maybe they made it to college and found out that the sport or skill on which they placed their entire identity had abandoned them.

The teacher who eat, sleeps, and breaths their content…they probably escaped from their insecurities by burying themselves into the subject they easily excelled at.

The teacher who is “cool” with every student…they were loners in high school, or they had it too good…so good they were never able to replicate it.

The teacher who is “harsh” with almost every student…they had it rough in high school.  Want to see how rough?  See which students they actually act positively toward.  Then you’ll know what they were like.  Or maybe it’s the students they act harsher toward.  Projection, displacement…I don’t know. Some defense mechanism that teacher is employing will illustrate the crisis they did not resolve in adolescence. They are the ones who needle students, criticize them, punish them, antagonizing the students that mirror the demons of their past.

One final teacher type for illustrating this theory:  the born and bred teacher.  They were the ones who lined up their teddy bears and taught them arithmetic when they were in second grade–going so far as to chastise Fluffy for talking out of turn.  Their crisis in high school came from skipping the crisis they were supposed to face in high school. They had already formed an identity long before it was time to form an identity.

 

All this postulating begs an example of identity getting resolved: let’s take the teacher who was picked on mercilessly in high school. As a result, they come into high school hopped up on power, looking to punish the vile Bradly Duckworth, who graduated five years ago.  Knowing there’s no B-Duck around anymore, the teacher settles for an teen showing a shred of his nemesis’s personality.

But this teacher realizes that developmentally, teenagers are products of environment, physiology, and society. They realize the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed, and that cause and effect is an underdeveloped cognitive skill.  So the teacher puts aside grudges and makes it a point to hold students accountable for “Duckworth-like” misbehavior, but in strong, warm, unbiased ways.  They find ways to build up the students being bullied while also patiently disciplining the bully with the goal of changing behavior rather than punishment.

 

 

Confessions of the crimes I have committed against music

As I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve recognized I still have a lot to atone for.  Like a typical ghost story, I still have things I must amend during my time on this Earth. And the first step to reconciliation, after all, is admittance of any malfeasance. So here it goes:

I learned how to record the radio during my summer transition to sixth grade. Like many my age, I sat cross legged, silent, attentive to the voice floating in the air.  I prayed for the redemption of a missed song. I steadied my hand for the blessing of that desired tune.  And when it finally played, I sprung and captured the elusive spirit of Coolio or Notorious B.I.G. With my tape complete, I tactlessly evangelized my parents, begging them to play my mix while we drove to Don’s Creamy Whip in the forest green Dodge Caravan. Of course, they entertained my endeavors, but I never converted them to my music.

In fact, I discovered their aversion to my musical preferences when I put in for the 12 CDs that the magazine promised for only one penny. The box of Biggy, 2Pac, and Metallica sat tantalizingly close on the counter.  Between us sat my father.  “We have to send them back…”  His words filled my head with steam, which clouded the rest of the conversation. I stormed up to my room and slammed the door.  How could he silence the art my ears craved? I fumed. And while this formed part of the reason he sent the CDs back, I had, of course, failed to read the fine print of the advertisement, which stipulated a monthly membership fee to go along with the penny for the dozen offer. That night, I stole Life After Death from the box.  The company would only get 11 CDs, and I would get Biggy to reward my rebellion.

The first CD I stole was Nirvana’s Nevermind. A friend in middle school leant me it. The music screamed angst into my life.  It mirrored the pain I felt in my cushy, suburban existence, with my private Catholic school education, two-parent home, and enrichment-filled schedule. I would not give it back to Ryan.  I told him I had put it back in his backpack during recess.  Someone must have taken it, I said with a shrug. He never suspected anything.  After all, I was the kid with the tucked in shirt, combed hair, and top grades (at least, compared to the other boys).  Also, they called me Elvis until I ruffled my hair throughout Junior High.

During our eighth grade trip to Chicago, I used the traveler’s check my parents gave me for food to buy my first CD: Krayzie Bone’s Thug Mentality. Up to this very moment, I never once questioned how a thirteen year old could buy such an explicit album.  But I did it. And the cool dad chaperoning the trip saw me buy it.  He gave me a smirk and never told my parents. It was so freakin’ gangster.

The first song I downloaded illegally was “Thong Song” by Sisqo, followed by “Too Close” by Next and Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin”.  Obviously I am organizing this chronologically, but you could guess my age when I digitally pilfered these songs.  At the time, sex remained an abstract idea, and the innuendo in “Too Close”, even for a teenaged boy who looked up all the sex words in his English-Spanish dictionary in the first week of high school, was ambiguous enough to elude me for the first few months of its release. I, of course, played the songs on repeat when driving my younger siblings places, even after I figured out why they kept singing “you’re making it hard for me.”

I bought the single to “Whistle While You Twerk” by the Ying-Yang Twins. I played it along with Too Short’s “Shake That Monkey” while I drove the aforementioned Dodge Caravan to swim meets.

During my undergrad, the water polo team I was on ate at an exclusive club one of the guy’s parents belonged to.  It was karaoke night. The guy had a great singing voice.  He moonlighted with the campus glee club. He sang something from karaoke royalty like Marvin Gaye or Sinatra or Bon Jovi.  After he serenaded the mostly empty dining room (and after the few groups not associated with us were moved to clap their hands), someone half-ass-dared me to sing. I took that as a sincere call to action. I was the self-deprecating jokester on the squad, and I needed some attention or I’d vanish into the night air (or something like that). Like an awkward first date, I tried to force a cheap laugh from the audience I was courting.  So I went to the DJ and requested my song. After bumbling through the first verse of “Ice Ice Baby”, the DJ cut me off.  I returned to my seat to discover no one was paying attention anyways.  Just me, the DJ, and my shame.

In post-grad I lost a friend over an argument: it was about the merits of Dave Matthews Band.  He thought they were too mainstream and “pop” to be considered artistic.  That bastard.

I also reviewed CD’s in post-grad.  I gave one a “-1 out of 10” and wrote “God help us all” as my review.  It’s a wonder my head didn’t burst from air of superiority I had pumped in it.

There are other things I’m not proud of.  My snobbery during college: my insistence of being the judge and jury of “real hip-hop.”

I’m not proud that I avoid dancing, and that I now latch onto my two-year old daughter at weddings so that I can merely rock my hips while I hold her.

I’m also not proud that I listen to the same 30 songs on repeat, only substituting a few songs every five years.

I’m not proud that I Kelis’s “Milkshake” has been stuck in my head since it came out and I haven’t actively tried to change that.

There.

I’ve confessed all the sins that plague my past. I can finally transcend this…

…wait, I’m still here.

 

 

 

 

Lifeguard Can Sense Severe Weather That Radar Can’t

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Evendale, Ohio—18 year old Brent Newman has a rare ability that some residents are calling “a gift from God.”  It started towards the end of last summer, locals claim, when Newman detected thunder for three straight days though forecasters hadn’t called for severe weather.  When management checked the radar online, there wasn’t a blip on the map.

After each, incident, the pool was cleared of swimmers as a precautionary measure. This uncanny ear for danger continued into this summer.

“I had just gotten in to swim laps about 45 minutes before closing. After I dove in, I heard the long whistle that signals patrons to empty the pool.  The thunder must have rumbled when I was under water,” swimmer Jason Berger said. “I wouldn’t have known there was severe weather if it weren’t for him.”

The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends that swimmers wait to re-enter the water 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder or visible flash of lightning. Evendale Pool follows this recommendation, even if the storm isn’t directly overhead.

“It could be a clear sunny day, and I’ll bring my kids to the pool, and all of a sudden, I see him blowing his whistle,” says resident Amy Mitchell, “Right when the pool is most crowded.”

When asked about the existence of thunder and lightning on otherwise cloudless skies, Newman told our reporter, “I don’t know. Crazy right? I saw this show on cable about a dude who got struck by lightning from a mile away even though it was sunny where he was. Goes to show you, you know?”

Dr. Janine Reynolds, an Audiologist at the University of Cincinnati, has her doubts: “It’s rare to find a person who can regularly hear such low sounds imperceptible to other humans, especially with such consistency and in these conditions.”

Lifeguards on staff, however, expressed their appreciation for and their belief in their co-workers keen senses.

“Man, he’s a freaking legend,” lifeguard PJ Barrett said, “That’s all I’ll say about that.”

At the time of publication, Evendale Pool has had 50 distinct severe-weather related closures this summer alone, 45 of which happened during Newman’s shift.  Other pools in the area have only had ten.

Pool management has not responded to requests for comment.

When a student dies

There are stats from my time teaching that I’m absolutely proud of:  making it 8 years in the classroom, my classes averaging 4 points growth on the English portion of the ACT, being voted Teacher of the Year twice (once by students and once by fellow staff), choosing a book for my curriculum that was stolen by at least six students, watching 14 boys that I followed in my homeroom from freshman year to senior year walk across the stage at graduation.

But then there are stats from my time teaching that shake me to the core, even now when I’m years removed from some of them:  seven boys from my homeroom dropped out of school, two times I had to be a mandated reporter, 30+ times my students were jumped walking to or from school.

The most tragic of these numbers is this: 6 students who I had taught are dead. 3 from gun violence. 3 from suicide.

 


 

I found out about Pierre’s death from that one student who will “snitch” about anyone and anything (students overuse and misuse the word snitch frequently, but in this case, it’s justified since the student was usually complicit in most of the “criminal activity” for which he was taddling).

The student walked into my room, pulled out his phone, and showed me a video on facebook.

The video was taken from the second story of a house that overlooked the yard the student breathed his last. In the dark clip, the body lay face down and motionless on a dimly lit sidewalk. His left leg lay on the ground while his right was propped up, helplessly entangled in the fence. His arms were behind his back, hand-cuffed.   A cluster of police stood on his side of the fence, pointing flashlights and shifting around him.  More were on the other side.  The only audible words were “Roosevelt” and “Grenshaw.”

I wish the student hadn’t shown me the video, yet I found myself rewatching it from my own account for the rest of my planning period.  My morbid curiosity staved off the creeping anguish that would have crippled my instruction for most of the day.

 


 

To say the death of a young person is tragic is understatement at best.  The loss affects their families and their friends the hardest. The peers who knew the young person also feel the ripple.  But as teachers, the consequences of a student’s death is complicated by our role in the school.

We are expected to be rocks–the cornerstones of the class and the school culture.  We are to be the steady shoulder and the calm compass. We shouldn’t laugh (but often can’t help it) when a student makes a raunchy joke or our chair makes the sound of flatulence. We hone our anger so that when we administer discipline, it is stern and just and tactfully given.  And when our students are burdened by the incredible grief from death, we tell ourselves this lie that we can’t cry in front of our students–that their tears can only be dabbed away if we ourselves are dry-eyed.  We have to be in complete control.

But we also know that the best teachers are vulnerable, emotionally and socially.  We know that effective instruction begins with authentic connections.  Our students’ lives and our own become intertwined: we cheer for them in and out of the classroom, we swim in the wake of their emotions, we absorb their joys and pains.

Even the students that drive us crazy are etched into our hearts (and if they aren’t we might be too burnt out to be in the classroom).

Thus, our response in front of our students often directly contrasts the pain we feel under the surface.

 


 

After finally prying myself from the video, I sent a message out to some friends and family.

Pray for my students and our staff.  A former student was shot by police.

It was a sincere message.  As much as “thoughts and prayers” get ridiculed, I believe in the power of prayer (but I believe we must act on the sentiments behind our prayer).

I got a handful of responses about praying for healing for those affected and that people would learn from it (whatever “it” was).  I got a response about praying for family and that it was a tragedy for “everyone involved.”  And then I got another message from a different person: “So sad.”  Followed by Pierre’s name.  Followed by “Gang member. Again, PLEASE be careful.”

Did I need to be careful? Probably not.  I’ve found teachers get a weird immunity from violence, especially those teachers who get to know their students, though wayward bullets know no profession or intent.

Was he a gang member? Probably.  I spent the rest of my morning prep period perusing his Facebook posts, and there were clues:

Someone reminiscing about telling him not to get a face tattoo, to which he responded that he’s in too deep not to get it. A post from someone who said “My Lil Shorty Kept That Pole He A Body Dropper” with picture of Pierre holding up a gun. Various other posts said they will make sure they wipe out a whole block of a rival gang.

But no one’s life should be summarized in two words–in this case, “Gang member”– as if that was reason enough to cast his memory aside. As if two years of vague criminal associations and suspected criminal behavior was reason enough to imply a just cause of death. As if the student wasn’t an incredibly complex individual with intelligence and compassion and humor and a cool smirk that held such a mysterious power over anyone who received it.

 


 

Unwittingly, I remember every former student by their smiles.

They could curse me out. Threaten me. Disrupt every lesson.  But I always go to their smiles first before I wade into the other interactions.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t remember them like that…

There are some students I just want to dismiss.  They come in ice-cold and bitter.  They snap at me even when I extend myself to them. They lash out at their peers and the staff with little provocation or cause.

Then I remember their stories.

When we gave the Adverse Childhood Experience assessment (More info here), almost every single student had at least one or two.  Many had three to four.  Some had 8 or 9 out of the 10 possible.

They have experienced more in their lives than I have, though I double their age. And many have been thrust into adulthood long before their brains fully developed. So when they curse me out at the drop of a hat (or, rather, because I ask them to take off their hat), there is a displacement that I recognize in their actions that I can now (after eight years of teaching) absorb and look beyond.

That’s why it’s easy for me to remember their smiles. Just as it is easy, it’s also important for me to remember their smiles.

If I didn’t, I’d lose hope or compassion or patience…or my sanity.

 


 

Pierre never openly laughed at my jokes.  I don’t blame him.  I’m a mozzarella stick (that is: I am cheesy…get it?).

Instead, he’d lean back and smirk.   His lips stretched enough to embrace the amusement, but his teeth imprisoned any verbal response that would betray an unrestrained mirth.  Everything with Pierre was calculated, at least inside the walls of our school.  He found power in his intelligence.  He found an opportunity to press the power structures in the school setting. He found himself surrounded by safe people.  Unfortunately, he also didn’t find exigence to stay in school.  Money, risk-taking, friendships, glamor…I don’t know what it was that drew him from our grasp.

I still believe we could have done more.  If only I given him more time.  If only I hadn’t given him that detention.  If only I had given him the inspiration the teachers in the movies and television shows give to their wayward youth.  If only I had given more of myself…

Then maybe Pierre would have been given a second chance.

I think about Pierre often. I think about all my lost students, living or not.

 


 

Sadie had the deepest dimples I’d ever seen.  Her eyes nearly shut when joy burst from her face. I could coax out some of that beautiful smile through classroom activities. Those are the moments teachers savor.

Lucia, who went by Bernard when I taught him, smiled like the anime characters (s)he so enjoyed.  (S)he always shook my hand when (s)he entered my class.

Wendall’s gap toothed smile was the sincerest I’d found in those first two years. From his lips flowed “big words,”  sometimes used correctly, but my gosh he loved language. It was infectious.

The other two students I barely saw.  They were in and out of school.  I did see them smile: when our principal tried to dance, when a student accidentally farted when leaning over to pick-up a paper, when I told him that LeBron was trash and that I could beat him in a game of one-on-one, in a picture when he went out with his homeroom advisor for BW’s.

 


 

There’s a lot about education those who were only students will never understand. Some of those people will make asinine comments like “those who can, do: those who can’t, teach.”  Or they’ll whine about teachers getting the summers off.

I can do the economics of why teachers are underpaid, but there are better videos and webpages dedicated to that cause.  And while there’s good cause for teachers to feel under-appreciated in ways that Chipotle’s buy-on-get-on-free once a year can’t fix, I realize some teachers make sure to rub the “woe-is-me” flag in the face of all they encounter.  This is not my intention in this post.

For one, I am still processing all that I’ve encountered, both on my own and with my students.  Second, I guess I am intending to memorialize those I will never see again. But I also want to show there are parts of teaching for which people fail to account and of which we are grossly unprepared to shoulder.

Dealing with student deaths is one of them.

On Reviews

Being the first born child, I have grown into a very healthy obsession over the thoughts and feelings of others, especially in how they pertain to me.  I lose a night’s sleep if I feel I have offended someone (which has happened recently).  I shudder at memories of my awkward moments, which usually stemmed from an ill-stated opinion or brash action. Critique strikes hard, and if potent enough or in rapid succession, I metaphorically curl up inside my safe room and refuse to release the locks until adequate time has passed or soft words coerce me out.

So naturally I decided to write and publish a book.

Now for the first part of this process, my people-pleasing self was fully satiated. My wife and my dad gave me great praise (and a star on the fridge next to my stick figure drawings…I’m not sure what my dad did since I don’t live with him anymore).

My editor gave me a lot to work on, but she also highlighted moments of “great writing” and said that the story, overall, worked very well.  She gave a perfect sandwich of positives, critiques, and positives.

Finally, a publisher signed me on, and I danced in the light of all this acceptance.

Woohoo! I can make my parents proud and can establish my permanent place as the first-born–the blemish-free overachiever that sweats oduer de rose and excretes well-shaped pepita de oro. (and apparently writes in French in Spanish like a pretentious twerp)

Then I got my first review. A very honest, biting critique that pretty much gave only one positive amid much criticism: my penis jokes. For the clean-cut oldest child, receiving only affirmation for raunchy humor cut deep.  It made me want to dive headfirst into a vat of chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream, where I can only save myself by eating and crying my way out.

But that’s the essence of publishing…and that’s why this process has been so important to me.

I like to believe I’m “good at everything.” Certainly, I’m not.  I’m adequate at many things.  Good at a few. And turrrrible at many others. I am thankful our Church’s music blares like 80’s arena rock.  If not, the monkey farts that I call singing would be heard by more than just the Lord.

I also avoid doing things I’m bad at.

Random tangent…Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition, but how utterly ridiculous does this sound: “I also avoid doing things at which I’m bad.” 

Yes, I’m a negativity avoider. I swerve away from discomforting experiences.  For example, my wife tried to teach me how to drive stick shift.  I stalled out twice at two different stop lights then got stuck on an incline.  I haven’t attempted it much since then, nor have I tried to drive a motorcycle since wiping out in front of my brother-in-law.

I know this is not a good way of going through life. Thus, I need the pain of experiencing the negatives.  I need to thicken my skin and accept my shortcomings as a writer.  I need my weaknesses to be exposed like my post-Christmas belly in my high-school t-shirt.

I need reviews.

Because no matter how reflective I think I am, the perceptions of others will dust off my mirror better than anything else.  If I am doing something well, the light from their words will compliment my feathery word choices or my perfectly chiseled humor or my tight plot.  But the critiques can also show the drooping action, anemic characters, or misshapen ending.

Whatever will be shown, I need to see my words–and by extension, me–in the eyes of the reader.  After all, my audience is no longer just me and those people who have literally seen me naked. And if I want to be a better writer, honest feedback is essential.

Even if it is difficult to stomach. Because, yes, receiving criticism is hard.  Knowing I’ve disappointed someone is painful.  Ruffling feathers and ruining someone’s moment, minute, hour, day, or week gives me anxiety. Feeling like I wasted someone’s time sincerely disappoints me. Even remotely offending someone gnaws at me.

So naturally I decided to write and publish satire. (That’s a different topic for a different blog post, I’m afraid)

 

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself these past months:  I need to be pushed into painful, uncomfortable experiences.  Like other artists, I truly do want honest reviews.  We all want to grow.  We all want to be better at our craft.

But please be constructive.  There’s only so much ice-cream we can eat, myself especially–after all, my wife is way cooler and hotter than I am.

 

 

 

On Stretching

I’m on day four of physical therapy for a herniated disc in my back (side note: is there anywhere else one can herniate a disc?)

My therapist told me that my initial injury and lingering discomfort could probably be from my tight muscles and, consequently, my severe inflexibility.  This makes sense. And like any rational person, I took thirty-two years and a stranger to  internalize the importance of stretching.

Please, Jon, do not make this a metaphor about stretching one’s self to try new things or meet new people. DON’T DO IT.

Humans, especially Americans…especially teens and young adults…especially guys, are hard-headed. We’ll smoke even though we can mentally recount all the different ailments and ugly side effects.  We’ll find ourselves returning to unhealthy relationships though we have an internal monologue about the stupidity of staying with these people playing on repeat.

“Which is why we need to push ourselves to extend beyond our comfort zone.”

Stop it.

For me, I always knew I should stretch, even though most of my soccer and basketball coaches never really pushed me to do it.  Probably because they assumed a stick like me didn’t have muscle or the capacity to be pliable. So, I went through youth sports and high school swimming without anything more than a slight bend at the waist and a half-hearted count to ten when my other teammates stretched.

With swimming, and even water polo, I figured I couldn’t really pull a muscle. The only thing I had to worry about was maybe tendinitis, besides swimmer’s ear and butt itch from wearing a speedo for too long (these last two ailments obviously can’t be remedied by stretching).

“We often lull ourselves into social, emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual complacency.  If we don’t strain ourselves, we will never reach the heights we could touch.”

Seriously, Jon, shut up.

My wife, who dealt with her own ailments after leaving competitive swimming, reminded me of the importance of stretching.  I even witnessed the benefits of these exercises when she went through physical therapy, yet I balked at yoga, core exercises, and stretching.

“If only you were flexible enough to try something for more than a day.”

I swear, I will hit you if you continue trying to make this metaphor work.

So, in July of this year, after a year of running, not stretching, playing basketball, not stretching, sitting slouched in chairs, not stretching, hiking mountains, not stretching, driving and flying, and not stretching,  I found myself in the greatest pain of my life after bending over to pick up my daughter.  A current of pain surged from my toes, through my hips, and up to my spine, where my body locked on to an unrelenting choke-hold on my nervous system.

“You know, we are often constricted by our rigid adherence to habits and conformi–”

SMACK

Instead of doing fifteen minutes of activity a few times a week, I had to deal with two months of sciatica, which got so bad that a thirty minute car ride became unbearable, to the point of tears.  This ordeal culminated with a midnight emergency room visit, where I shuffled into triage wearing slip-on water shoes, baggy shorts, and a shirt that reads “This is what an awesome dad looks like” (on the shirt, there are also two fists with thumbs pointing at my head).

An awesome dad doesn’t let his body seize up from neglect.

sniffles while mumbling incoherently about being a role model for growth and open-mindedness for our kids.

I’m faithfully following through with my exercises.  My daughter is even stretching alongside in her adorable, not-technically-correct way. I’d chastise her for incorrect stretching, but she can bring her feet up to her mouth.  I can only do this figuratively (which, unfortunately I do quite often).

*whispers* “why can he speak figuratively and I can’t?”

I hope to soon be able to touch my toes. Yes, this is sad.  No, I don’t need your judgment. Beyond being able to say I can adequately bend at my hips enough to brush dirt of my shoes, I hope I can prepare my body for a less-painful life by safeguarding against those conditions that can be prevented.

And so, by doing the small things, I will be able to fully engage in the bigger moments–I will be able to extend myself to reach people and places I never thought possible–I will finally realize a better version of me.

*Soft whimpers* while the backside of a hand threatens to rake across the face

Stretching is important. I wonder if this idea of flexibility and developing one’s self goes beyond just physical exertion. Meh, oh well. I won’t think too hard about it.

Open weeping 

I am not John Wayne

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There’s an interesting thing happening in the debate about gun control right now.

Teachers are being thrust into the forefront of the conversation, which is weird since this only really happens when there’s a sex scandal or a teacher strike or buy-one-get-one at Chipotle for Teacher Appreciation Week (do teachers really deserve a free burrito?)

Teachers are being cast as potential action movie characters clothed in dry-erase-marker-stained khakis, a school polo worn twice a week, and brown faux-leather mules (John Wayne rode horses, so that’s kind of close I guess).

Teachers are being asked to train for warfare in addition to the constant training in pedagogy, child development, test prep, analyzing data, school procedures, random bureaucratic paperwork, how to balance our own lives, how to brew a decent cup of coffee, and how to break caffeine addiction.

Teachers (myself being one) have to think about accommodating learning discrepancies and deficiencies. We have to think about how to organize desks and seating arrangements.  We have to worry about lessons plans and unit plans and curriculum plans.  We have to worry about meeting PD requirements.  We have to worry about assessments demanded by politicians with little-to-no experience in the classroom. We have to worry about how we’ll find time to give 100 papers timely and thorough feedback. We have to worry about tornado drills, fire drills, earthquakes drills, active-shooter drills, and power drills (if shop class still exists).  We have to worry about evaluations and accommodations and immunizations.

We have to worry about standardized test scores while worrying about how Student A is dealing with his mother’s death and how Student B is going to get on track after missing a week due to illness and how Student C is in a crazy downward spiral that’s causing him/her to act out in class and how Student D is shutting down and won’t let us in and how Student E and Student F used to be friends but are now feuding and its effecting the entire grade and how Student G doesn’t have enough money for clean clothes and food for when he/she gets home and how Student Q is somewhere in outer space.

We are tasked with managing 20+ distinct personalities in a tightly closed setting–each student bringing their own distinct baggage to our already emotion laden lives. We are asked to (and we gladly will) grieve with our students, challenge them, discipline them, educate them, comfort them, coach them, and absorb all the crap they deal with in and out of the school walls. Now you want us to shoot them?

Teachers should not have to worry about a locked gun we may or may not use.  We should not be arming teachers in a country that is not facing a constant enemy threat due to geographic proximity and an active war. We should not give teachers a fraction of the training that we give police and military and then expect teachers to react like a war-hero. We should not expect people like me to wield weapons of destruction in a place of learning.

I’ve seen and (sort of) helped break up more than a handful of fights.

Quite a few times, I stood almost right next to the fight.  Every time, I temporarily froze.   And every time, I was glad no one had a gun…including the staff.

Here’s why:

Even the smallest fight might be cause for an over-reacting teacher to pull a gun.  And then who knows what will happen.  Also, we live in a society where different races are viewed as being more violent and more “adult” than peers of their same age but of different races.  The reactions of the predominately white staff will be different.

We are emotional creatures, fallible beyond our own understanding. I’ve seen plenty of teachers breakdown over the course of the day.  The weight of society’s expectations and the pain we assume from our students is heavy. Kids can be brutal–they don’t always know better, and worse, sometimes they do. Imagine if a distraught teacher knew a gun was close by.

 

But let’s look at the mass shootings that have happened: a barely trained gun handler will not shoot with precision.   It takes time, practice, and skill to assess volatile situations. It takes years of training to automate crisis response. And it takes years of practice to be an expert marksman.

But of course, in the minds of some, Ms. Smith will be able to pick-off the AR-15 blasting teen from 100 yards away with the single-shot of a handgun through the running mob of people while also avoiding the influence of the flying bullets and surging adrenaline pumping through her veins.  Maybe the Science department will convene in a stairwell, cock their guns and nod at each other before pouring into the hallway with military precision (you know, checking corners, giving back-up, signing out commands–which they have memorized and practiced– in a perfectly synchronized attack on a target).

Also, kids, especially teens, are mischievous, brash, and prone to wonder into bad decisions because it’s part of their development: they like to test boundaries and engage in risk-taking behaviors.

If you think they won’t figure out how to get into a box to retrieve a gun, then you are obviously not in education and you might have raised the kid who you think is a perfect angel but is a terror at school (and you won’t believe me when I tell you).  As certain as I am that I will find students beginning for extra credit at the end of the quarter, I can guarantee that some student will try to break in, even if it is as a joke or a test of their abilities. Hopefully they won’t do it so they can get their revenge or so they can get a way out.

 

If you are scanning this article because it is too long, stop here and read below (and, please, pick up a book once in a while)

Guns have no place in school.  Even if it mitigates the damage of one mass shooting, the amount of damage that guns provide will offset it (either accidentally, maliciously, or self-inflictedly).

We are not living in a war zone. So while I am not an expert in policy and economics, I think the time has come to ask ourselves why anyone needs more than ten bullets and a semi-automatic weapon…

…and why we are more willing to pour resources into arming our schools instead of equipping them to address our students’ socio-emotional-psychological health.

What do I know? I’m just a teacher. The answer to these questions are beyond me (or my pay grade).

 

 

*Note: There’s a typo in the last paragraph before the bolded comment.  In the fourth line I say “beginning” when I meant to say “begging.” Literally two hours before I wrote this, one of my ELL students made the exact mistake but in reverse (saying “begging” when they meant to say “beginning.”) I like that I made this mistake. So I’m keeping it.