A perspective from a former public high school teacher, mom & bonus mom of four daughters (10th grade, 8th grade, 2nd grade, & 1 year).
Friday morning my routine was off-kilter as I was in the midst of working earlier than normal finalizing a contract, staging my home for a view, prepping for a conference call, and caring for my one year old. The news was not on as it normally would have been. I gathered the horrific information from my husband’s aunt as us three were communicating our contract. My body froze, filled with goose bumps, and my exact reply was, “Holy Shit! We have kids in that school.” The text to my niece’s – my husband’s goddaughter’s – parents was sent. I immediately recalled during a scare a few months back, it took them awhile to respond, so I text the women of our family, and my husband called his best friend. My sister then called and provided all the horrific details. I thought I was going to vomit. My husband called and the texts were coming in- She was safe. My sister-in-law sent us all a proving picturing she was safe, unharmed, and standing with her and her best friend, the Momma of the beautiful freshman baby. I checked two of my girls out of school early later that afternoon, so we could go by and hug the family and just be with them. (Yes, I notified their father immediately, so he would be aware as to why they were not at school. #blendstrong). By the day’s end, the family was no longer dealing with just the tragedy befalling their community and the scare of their child being so close to danger, they were dealing with great loss… loss of a young man whose friendship had changed their entire home. A young man among ten total that lost their life that day with 12 injured and countless people forever altered by this heinous act.
I have not been able to turn on the news, yet. Anytime prior when a mass shooting has befallen a school or a community in any fashion, I watch the news to know the victims and the injured, celebrate the good people affected (not the monster), pray specifically for their family, friends, loved ones, and all those affected by such atrocity, learn what was the motivation and the psychological mindset of such evil. Not this time. It’s too close to home. I do not want to see the face of the monster plastered on the TV. It should be an image of a greyed-out circle with a question mark and the only reference to him should be, “this idiot,” “this monster,” “this jackass,” “this coward,” “this weak piece of shit,” and the like. We should not know his name or his face. He should be nothing. But that’s not how the news works these days. Further, one of the children in my family was present that day. Two of the children will go to school there next year. The campus of Santa Fe High School is 6.1 miles from my current home. I have countless friends and family that live in that town. Here in the south, neighboring towns are just that, neighbors. Therefore, we are all torn up. Social media is an avenue I am still viewing to stay connected with my loved ones. What I am predominantly seeing throughout the feed of multiple social media platforms is anger. Justifiable anger. My hope is the adults, the parents, and the community truly takes this energy and truly applies it for change versus venting about a subject on social media.
Routine is Necessary to Heal along with Reflection
Our schools are beckoning our parents and children to return to school, to feel safe, and to believe they are doing everything in their power to protect our children these last two weeks of school for the surrounding schools. I believe, we as parents and a community must do the same for our children despite the evil that has infinitely affected us all. Therefore, I must still encourage and send my children to school. Over the course of seven years I spent time on several high school campuses (in pursuit of my BA degree for internships and student- teaching and upon obtaining my degree, substituting, long-term subbing, and teaching), I interned with seniors and sophomores, student-taught sophomores, subbed long-term subbed freshmen to seniors, taught sophomores, remediated freshmen to seniors, taught freshman (special course for those behind, academic, and PreAP) and seniors (AP), and private tutored second grade through seniors. Children are resilient. They tend to model their behavior after their parents. Yes, they take their lead from you. In my time in the classroom, most children are parakeets to what opinions they are inundated by at home. It is with this knowledge, I have maintained a level of optimism in my home for my children during this time.
Monday… the day of the week beckoning normal routine. This Monday, there is no doubt people did not want to face the go-to-school-and-work routine. I for one literally laid in bed too long, almost gave in to allowing my kids to stay home, pulling the covers over all our heads and pretending they would be safer wrapped in my arms, in my home, all day, everyday from here on out. As I rose out of bed, I felt hungover. Not the alcohol induced hangover; the emotional dump hangover. I could have used a drink this weekend, to be honest. Being six weeks pregnant prevented that luxury. I was able to surround myself with family, play with my children, clean, cook, and bake; therapy. Homeschooling… I tossed this idea over and over in my mind this weekend. Realistically viewing what all this would entail. I text with my sister-in-law about it. Chatted briefly with my family that was directly affected by the tragedy. I am pretty sure it was one of the first things out of my mouth in anger, fear, and panic Friday morning. My protective Momma-bear self was getting carried away with extreme, emotional reaction…
Then, I had a big girl talk with myself Sunday night and again this morning reminding myself:
I still attend Mardi Gras.
I still get on airplanes.
I still plan to return to Vegas.
I still eat at diners.
I still attend the movie theater.
I still shop at the mall.
I still go to my bank and credit union.
I still run in organized races.
I still plan to visit Paris.
These reminders are prevalent to every American. We are a resilient nation. Therefore, we raise resilient children. I am an adult born of such resiliency. I am just a natural fighter; I do not flee. Through this personal talk and self-reflection, I stepped into my own memory of a tragic experience, 23 February 1998 when I was present in a mass shooting at Mardi Gras in Galveston. The shooter opened fire standing directly to my right. He made eye contact with me just before he fled. I remember running towards the wounded, being thrown to the ground, fighting to get up to help those hurt, and being yelled at by my boyfriend at the time to, “STAY DOWN!” as he practically laid on top of me. We were yelled at to stand up. We stood up to police officers surrounding us with their guns drawn, telling us to put our hands up. We did. My boyfriend described the shooter and pointed the officers in the direction he fled. I then went to run to the wounded again. My boyfriend, a tight end for Texas A&M back then, picked me up with one arm and carried me to the opposite curb from the wounded where we met up with our group, another football player and three female soccer players from A&M. Everyone was in a panic, but me. I just wanted to help the wounded. The next few weeks were a haze. I was 20 years old, a full-time student at Alvin Community College, and a full-time Records Clerk for Dickinson Police Department where I assisted the Sergeant of CID whom specialized in child abuse and sexual assault cases at the time. Monday directly after the incident, it was my coworkers – trained police officers – realizing through my demeanor I must have witnessed the events. I had to fax affidavits to College Station for my boyfriend and our friends to fill out their written statements for my police department to get to the sheriff’s department to aid in the case. I can claim I was numb from witnessing a death and five wounded. I was. However, I had experienced personally tragedy prior through deaths of loved ones including my Bonus Mom two and a half years before. My parents taught me to face the next day, to understand my life will be forever altered. Learning through it all it is not that time would heal my pain, it is accepting I would learn to live with the pain and grow around it. So, I put my big girl pants on and dove into a routine. It is the most pivotal aspect of the healing process.
After recalling that tragic memory and how I moved forward after it and the passing of loved ones, I forced myself to remember my life as a high school student and any scares we felt on our campus back in the 1990’s. Some kids put homemade bombs in the toilet of the History building, and it detonated. We had multiple bomb threats that caused us to evacuate. A kid – previously graduated our school – came onto the campus, locked himself in his car, and shot himself over an issue with his girlfriend; he committed suicide in that parking lot. I had grown up playing with him on my grandmother’s street… we, of course, had stopped playing with him at some point because we thought he was “weird”. I asked myself how safe I felt at school then and how much it affected me to return… I only knew to return to school, and I still felt safe there.
I chose to reflect as a former educator. February 2014 through June 2017 I had the privilege to teach at my alma mater. Yes, I often thought of the scares I encountered as a student. While teaching, I tried to remember the emotions these kids are feeling even though at times those exceptional adolescent feelings are 22 years away from me. As a teacher, I will admit, I observed students to stay vigilant, present, and protective; maybe I even went as far as profiling them (not freaking racial profiling, totally not my nature). I would ask myself the hard questions, played out scenarios, and stayed present for my students-
Would this kid be the kid to do it?
What would I do if a gunman entered my classroom?
I placed my desk and work area in a manner I could protect myself long enough to respond to protect my kids.
I always had a heavy book nearby to allow me to throw it if needed, which I would then charge to fight, and fight how my former Marine brothers taught me: knees, eyes, mouth, throat.
When we rehearsed lockdowns, I had realistic conversations with my class. They each grabbed a dictionary or literature book to take with them as we sat and waited. They knew in the event it was not a drill and a gunman entered our classroom, we would all chunk the books, and I would charge. A few kids vowed they would fight with me. This was a suggestion from my Associate Principal during our annual training, and I believed in the choice to fight.
I taught English, which means kids wrote, a lot. Which means I read, a lot. Any writing that brought a redflag (not just violence, but emotional anguish, admittance of abuse, etc), I turned over to the counselors and/or the assigned Assistant Principal.
Surprisingly, I felt less fear as a teacher than I did as a student 22 plus years ago. Precautions are a helluvalot better now than they were then. We did not have any of the scares on the campus while I taught I had experienced as a child. I only found myself in the middle of a fight between students. I was five and a half months pregnant. I reflexed into stopping the kids to protect them from each other and themselves before my mind reminded me I was pregnant. Mostly due to the fact one girl sucker punched the other girl while I was standing between them after being asked to come here by one of them. I reacted to stop the violence. At the point I remembered my baby in my belly, the kid I had a hold of could not be let go. I had to see it through. Granted, I was pissed at myself, but I know me, and it would probably happen again. Afterall, I am a fighter.
I am not teaching anymore, however. I chose to stay home with my baby after she was born and be more available to my family. I will admit, I am glad I am. These last few days have been heartbreaking. Educators & administrators fulfill a tough role in times such as these. People are mad at them. Today alone, there have been scares and threats on the schools of our district – one of my own children’s – and surrounding districts. It’s what tends to happen on the brink of such insanity. The wounded step out with a cry for help disguised as evil. They are being assholes for the most part. You cannot let it go though. We have to act on their threats. We have to take it serious. Not just after a tragedy, but everyday. It takes our children and the adults to be vigilant and turn in questionable behavior to prevent any more damage.
I admit the system is flawed. Not just the educational system, but our judicial system and the agencies that work diligently to support the process- federal agencies, law enforcement, emergency personnel, CPS, foster care, etc. Why are they flawed? Because they are run by humans, and we are a flawed people. Remember! We are flawed parents, spouses, partners, employees, teammates, children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and people in general. Yet, most of us try, every day, to make it better. My loved ones that are a part of the system and all the systems I mentioned are damn good at what they do because they work with passion and dedication. With this tragedy, and all the tragedies prior, we must start demanding a change and working for the change beyond the hot air coming out of our mouths, or the words typed onto social media platforms.
It’s Time for the Tough Questions for Parents & Guardians
You have a problem with how your school protects your child, you are spreading your disgust on how tax dollars are spent in schools, you are pissed teachers and administrators aren’t armed, you believe we need more law enforcement presence, and you are filling up our news feeds with your agenda motivated by anger. For the most part, I agree with your sentiments. But, I am curious-
How do you feel about your tax contributions (federal, state, and city)?
Would you be less angry about your tax contributions if they were allocated in a manner you approve?
Is there a chance you lie on your taxes?
How many public school board meetings do you attend?
How often to present your concerns when they are on the agenda to be discussed in the public meetings?
How did you vote when the bond for the new football stadium(s) was(were) presented on the ballots?
You believe more parents should be present at the school guarding our entrances, manning bathroom entries, walking the halls during class, joining forces with the school liaison officers, and you are filling up our news feed with your agenda motivated by judgement. I agree with you still. But, I am curious-
Have you filled out the background check form to be a volunteer on your child’s (childrens) campus(es)?
Have you volunteered?
If your child has a W.A.T.C.H. Dog program in place, have you volunteered?
I get we are all busy, we have to work, and it is hard to find time to get up to the school to volunteer. But, I bet you have time in your schedule to be present at your child’s school. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to see if you have the time-
Have you been off work during the week?
Have you attended sporting events during the week that required you to arrive midday?
Have you found time during the weekday to hang out with your friends?
Do you purposefully take off work during the week to go out of town or attend a function/event?
We have momentum here, folks. Take the energy you have from the deserving anger you feel and apply it to a change. Start voting. Attend the public board meetings. Understand the bonds and the process. Formulate a non-profit organization designed to solely fund the improvements of protecting our schools. Volunteer for God’s sake. Demand a W.A.T.C.H. Dog program be allowed at the Intermediates and High Schools (they are definitely needed). Elementary schools are inundated with moms, dads, and guardians bustling to hang decorated paper, plan musicals, produce fundraisers, carnivals, be an assistant to the teacher, and eating lunches with their babies. Volunteers in that fashion just aren’t allowed at the high school level because children are competing for gpa’s and class rank, and the risk of a parent/guardian viewing testing material, upcoming assignments, etc, is too detrimental. I had offers to assist me all the time; I just could not accept. Parents/guardians spend time in booster clubs then for extracurriculars and athletics. Why not place the eager parents in the hallways and doorways? I guarantee you they will come. The kids will benefit from their parents/guardians, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc being present in Intermediate and High School. Chances are they will behave themselves better, too. Trust me, kids really start morphing into bonafide asses about 6th grade (Intermediate), they are progressing to trying out slandish remarks 7th and 8th, and they have mastered disobedience and disrespect come high school. As a teacher, you may win them over, but you will still see this side of them. As a parent, you know exactly what I am referring to because you have probably bitched to your best friends your teenaged daughter is possessed by hormones and/or your sweet boy is becoming a real jerk. These kids need to see us present the next six years of school, not just Pre-K through 5th.
There is a great deal of talk surrounding the idea of homeschooling and literally pushing parents/guardians to keep their children home, ban public schools, and home school their child. To each their own. But, ask yourself, realistically ask yourself if you are personally equipped to handle your child’s education. Questions to pose to yourself to assist you in truly answering this question-
Is homework time a standard routine in the afternoons/evenings in your home?
Is there a designated homework space designed for your children?
Do you currently struggle with your child’s motivation to complete their homework?
Do you find yourself blaming the teacher because your child is not motivated?
How often do you model behavior to promote your child’s passion and desire to learn?
By modeling promoting behavior, I mean read and write in front of them?
Are you able to assist them with their core subjects (English, Math, Science, History)?
When you sign off on their homework &/or projects, did you even read what you were signing?
When you sign off on their homework &/or projects, did you even thoroughly check their work?
Are you aware of their due dates?
Do you check the status of their progress as they approach their due dates?
Do you expect the teacher to be the sole provider of your child’s education?
To provide education to your child at home, you have to genuinely respect the idea of education. Ask yourself if you truly support education. Here are some questions to pose to yourself to gain a grasp on your perception of education-
What is the temperature of the conversation surrounding education in your home?
Do your children openly share their disgust of their teacher with you?
Do they use phrases such as, “she is such a bitch,” “I hate him,” with you?
Do you facilitate a negative tone with your child to promote their disdain for education?
Do you hold your child accountable for their grades?
Do you blame the teacher?
Do you partake in conferences with your child’s teacher(s) to promote your child’s success?
Do you support outside help when your child is failing?
Becoming the sole support of your child’s education also entails you becoming the sole manager of their behavior. Are you ready for that? Here are some questions to ponder to truly see-
Do you wake with your child in the morning or do they wake you?
Does your child have a regular, habitual morning routine?
Is your child chronically late to school?
When your child is absent &/or tardy, do you send in proper letters to explain the absence &/or tardy?
Is your child’s attendance littered with unexcused tardies and absences?
When your child encounters a behavioral issue at school, do you find fault in the school?
When your child encounters a behavioral issue at home, do you find fault in the child? Or yourself?
Is their cell phone an issue in school?
Do you expect the teacher to monitor your child’s cell phone use?
Do you remember your child’s teacher has anywhere from 20-38 kids in their classroom (that is 150-200 total students per teacher at the Intermediate and High School level)?
Do you eat meals regularly with your child at home?
Does your child have a normal bedtime regimen?
How is the atmosphere of your home that your child witnesses on a regular basis?
How often does your child see you drunk?
Do you yell at your child, like yell all the time?
Do you cuss at your child?
Do you apologize to your child when you have made a mistake?
None of these questions are designed to point the finger at or fault you. They are designed to snap you into reality. Provide a bit of accountability and awareness on your part as their parent/guardian. Our society is formulated around our children learning to socialize with other people. Think of Nemo on his first day of school and his father Marlin not being ready. Children love school. It is true, children begin to despise school at some point, but you can counteract their mindset if you truly want them to succeed.
I will not sit here and jump on the bandwagon we should ban guns. It is a preposterous notion developed by unrealistic people. You will simply take protection away from good people and the evil people will remained armed. My home is locked and loaded and will fight to protect our own. As a nation, we are dealing with a much larger issue here. Mental illness is worse than cancer. It is a seed planted by neglectful parents, manipulative and coercive parenting, and years of abuse whether it be physical, verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, financial, and/or all. Move that into adulthood and the adults prey on their children, their spouse(s), and anyone they can find. For children developing a mental illness, schools should be an escape for these children. Unfortunately, the product of such upbringing tends to take shape of a lonely, scared, unapproachable person. We tend to run away from these people, when we as a society should be running towards these people. As mankind, we have a moral obligation to try to help one another. Kids are mean. Kids, sadly, are taught to be mean. Parents openly talk about people in front of their children. Their children go to school and practice what they hear. If abusive behavior is present in the home, you bet your ass the kid will execute similar behavior at school.
I am not implying every child with a mental illness comes from a neglectful and/or abusive home. That is ridiculous. Mental illness has multiple facets and diagnoses. I am not claiming all people with a mental illness are evil. That is even more ridiculous.
I am simply saying mental illness needs to be openly discussed and supported. People dealing with a mental illness should not be treated as though they have a contagious disease. When mental illness is neglected, we end up with a threat to our society.
We as parents need to watch our tongue, how we treat each other, the home life we provide to our children, how we speak and treat our children, and how we act towards mankind. This is the ripple effect.
Your children will be afraid if you teach them fear. Your children will be naïve if you teach them naivety. Your children will be vigilant if you teach them observation. In my home, we believe it requires a blend of the three: Give people the benefit of the doubt when they have earned the privilege of your faith, be realistic to be hesitant when your gut screams at you, and pay attention because it can happen to you.
I don’t doubt I may have pissed some people off with this post. Not everyone tends to like what I have to say because it makes them uncomfortable. Good. Get uncomfortable. Get active. Get involved. Change starts with you. Make some damn changes. Work with your schools and communities versus fighting against the grain because you are actually too damn lazy to get up and do anything about it other than post you improper grammar and misspelled nonsense on social media.
If you like what I have to say, even just a little, share it. The adult world needs some clarity and help with all we are inundated with on the regular as parents/guardians.
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