A former student brought this giant Hershey’s kiss (which serves 5 by the way) to me this morning. It was out of the blue, and I was so surprised. I interact with this particular student quite often- always at Target, where he works and where I spend large amounts of my paycheck.
He came by this morning, and sort of sheepishly pulled it out of his backpack and presented it to me.
An hour later, hundreds of students left their classes to participate in the national student-organized walkout protesting gun violence, one month after the Parkland, Florida school shooting of 17 people. Teachers were informed we were not allowed to engage in any form of the student-led events unless we took a personal day. I completely understand this, but I also have been traumatized by gun violence and the whole suggestion of arming teachers affects my personal life and my career.
I grew up about 30 minutes from Columbine High School and was in elementary school when the shooting happened. I remember being eight years old, waiting in my classroom for parents to come and pick up me and my classmates. I definitely didn’t understand why we were leaving school early. I remember in high school when we were asked to leave our backpacks in our lockers because in the case of an emergency, backpacks would be roadblocks to students who needed to escape rows of desks. I remember the Batman movie theater shooting happening, two weeks before my wedding, in my home town of Aurora, CO. An acquaintance from high school lost his dad. I remember substitute-teaching preschool-aged children four months after we married, reading the news of the Sandy Hook massacre. I sat in their break room with a heart weighing 100 pounds. I was working with complete strangers and complete strangers’ children, yet this dark cloud of dismay settled on each of us.
I bring all of this trauma with me into my school day, whether I want to or not. I try to wear my badge at all times, remember if the door is locked or not, look for signs of antisocial teenagers, comply with lockdown drills, all while simultaneously trying to have an open classroom door and a safe space for students to really feel seen and valued.
I’ve seen posts about walk-outs and walk-ups and how we should encourage students to befriend the lonely instead of leaving class. I really think both action steps are necessary.
As lousy as it can be to be a teacher sometimes, especially in a society where schools aren’t guaranteed safety, this student’s gift of chocolate brought me back where I actively try to remain: centered in my sphere of influence.
Ultimately, everyone really does need to be seen, to be walked up to. We’re in the business of education. And customer service. It’s such a human job: students, teachers, administrators, custodians, parents, guardians, social workers, counselors, nurses, support staff, paraprofessionals. There are human beings strolling the hallways of our buildings and each one not only has intrinsic worth, but needs to be noticed.
Sometimes I feel like a bear on ice skates as an educator: I’m clumsy, silly, out of place, performing a ridiculous dance and being critiqued by an audience of people who don’t spend time in the rink with me. The whole concept has been damaged by a broken system. And I don’t have control over much.
But here’s what I do have control over: every single interaction I am a part of- each conversation, relationship, and exchange. I may never win Teacher of the Year or become a building leader or help create educational policies, but on any given day, I can be someone’s #1 Teacher, or at least one of their caring adults.
Since I can’t promote my views on gun culture and gun reform at school, I’m asking you to do so for me. Be the type of caring adult that continues to make space for student voices to guide policies and systemic change.
Let’s keep walking out & walking up.