Thoughts from a Teacher in Today’s Schools

I have so many thoughts running through my head and my heart – a jumbled collection of ideas clouded by fear, devastation, frustration, and anger with no real organization or solutions in mind. As a result, I’m afraid this blog post will probably reflect the chaos in my heart, and that’s okay: I think it’s safe to say at this point, it probably reflects the way most of us feel right now. I will do my best to make it as cohesive as possible…bear with me.

First, I want to be clear that this post is not political, nor is it designed to point fingers at anyone. It is not intended to start a debate; I want no part in arguing. I don’t even identify myself as a Democrat or a Republican. The only label I am comfortable wearing is Christian. I hate politics and the divisive hatred it brings with it. While I do follow the news and the words and actions of our elected leaders and cast my vote in each election, I refuse to get into pointless heated discussions with people who don’t agree with my beliefs.

With that said, I think the one thing both sides will agree with is this: we, as a nation, are in trouble. The tragedy in Florida is only the latest in a series of violent acts – acts that are carried out against our children. Our CHILDREN. And instead of coming together, instead of mourning with those parents and families who sent their babies off to school, not knowing it would be the last time they’d ever see them, we’re fighting. Fighting over what needs to be done, over who is to blame, over what should happen next. And while I understand and appreciate the passion from which those arguments come, I also know that it’s not going to bring those babies back and it sure isn’t going to prevent it from happening again in the near future.

The truth is, somewhere along the way – okay, multiple times along the way – the shooter in Florida was failed. I don’t know his whole story or what it would have taken to get through to him, to help him realize his own worth and get the help he needed to get his life on the right track, but whatever it was, he didn’t have it. We can blame the fact that he was allowed to purchase a gun in the first place…we can blame the FBI and anyone else involved who didn’t respond appropriately to reports…but none of that gets to the heart of the matter.

I hear your cries for gun control. Trust me, as a teacher, I get it. I’ve gone through active shooter training. I’ve planned escape routes and imagined how to best protect and hide my students. I’ve long accepted the fact that if it came to it – and I pray to the good Lord that it never does – I would die protecting my students because I love them. I love every single one of them and would give my life without hesitation if it meant saving theirs. And I can say with confidence that every single teacher I know would do the same. It is a job we chose because we love kids and want to be around them, want to impact them, in the best possible way we can. We live in a society where as a whole, teachers aren’t valued. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t scroll my Facebook feed and then shut off my phone in disgust as I see yet another parent ranting about a teacher, followed by dozens of comments from other parents raging about individual teachers and the school system as a whole. I had a student tell me flat out, just this past week, that his parents didn’t like a particular teacher so they told him he could make her life as miserable as he wanted to. But you know what? That teacher would still take a bullet for that child.

Herein lies a piece of the puzzle of What is wrong with this world: Respect. And no, I’m not blaming our kids here. Our kids are merely a product of the environment – home, school, and media combined. They are what they see and hear and watch on a daily basis. How can we expect more out of our kids in this insane world we’ve brought them into? How can we expect them to respect their teachers and each other when they don’t see it out of us? Again, I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I’m far from the perfect parent and make mistakes daily with my boys. My kids see me scrolling through my phone far too often, and then I get frustrated when they get too wrapped up in technology. Our kids will hear our words, but it’s our actions that will leave the greatest impact. When a kid sees hatred and violence at home, he becomes desensitized to the damage that comes with it. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t lie awake at night, crying and praying for some particular kid who told me about something disturbing he or she heard/saw/experienced at home. My ten-year-old fifth graders have seen Rated R movies that I won’t even watch. They play video games that glorify killing and beating people. It simply isn’t possible for a young, impressionable mind to take in that kind of violence and behavior and not be affected in some way. “Eh, I watched that kind of stuff as a kid and I didn’t grow up shooting people.” Maybe so, but the world we live in today is not the same world you grew up in years ago. The Internet and social media have changed the whole ballgame. These kids today – they face challenges that we as adults never even dreamed of during childhood. Let’s give them a break. Instead of putting all the blame on them, let’s root for them. Let’s try to change the world for them. Let’s let them see us coming together for each other instead of bashing each other and filling our minds and our newsfeeds with hatred. We can’t control the choices that every parent makes regarding their children, and so many of our kids don’t speak up about the abuse, neglect, and illegal behavior that occurs at home. We, as adults, have to step up for those kids. Become their voice. Offer them a mentor, a safe haven, whenever and however we can.

Back to the gun control issue: I get it. After Sandy Hook, especially, I was the first one to cry out that citizens shouldn’t own those military-style guns that can kill multiple people in under a minute. And you know what? I still believe that. It is an unpopular opinion in my little town in southern Illinois, and I have several male relatives who own them who are, if they’re reading this, sounding their war cry against me as we speak. “You can’t take away my Constitutional rights! You can’t take my guns!” But when it comes to the safety of my kids – both my own and the ones who are mine every day between 8:00 and 3:00 – I would do whatever I can to ensure we save as many lives as we can. Do I think there should be strict background checks on anyone buying a gun? Absolutely! Do I think our nation needs to look at our existing laws concerning guns and think about making some changes? Of course. But with that being said, I’m also not naïve enough to think that creating new gun laws will solve the whole problem. We all know that making something illegal does not make it obsolete. Look at the statistics of illegal drug usage. Of alcohol use by minors. If a criminal is determined to get their hands on a gun of some kind, he or she will find a way to do it. No, that doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them, but creating these laws will only create a black market for guns. People will still find a way to get their hands on them.

And so, I’m back to square one.

Parents, I hear your frustrations. I hear your cries that children are reporting bullying and other incidents, only to have “nothing done about it.” The truth is, there’s always something done about it. Schools have a protocol in place as to what happens when bullying or inappropriate behavior occurs. Those students who report it may not see it, as most action is handled in private as per privacy protocol demands, but something happens. The thing is, as teachers and even administrators, our hands are often tied. There are hoops to jump through for any serious consequences to occur. The sad reality is, if a student says something that makes another student uncomfortable but doesn’t actually DO anything, like commit a crime, there’s only so much that can be done. Instead of getting angry with our teachers and administrators, who are simply following the legal protocol, we need to call for a change in policy, nationwide, as to getting students effective help as soon as any alarm bells begin to sound.

I don’t have the answer. I do know one thing, though, and this is the part that won’t be so popular with a lot of people: you can’t really hope for any kind of change unless you bring God into this equation. We can’t continue to demand that He is left out of things and then get angry when He doesn’t seem to be here anymore. The thing is, He’s STILL HERE. Our Bible assures us that He will never leave us or forsake us. He didn’t cause this violence to happen, and for those who are shaking their fists at Him and blaming Him, I can assure you that He is weeping right along with us. But He does not, and never has, forced Himself on anyone. And as a result, sin runs rampant. When people don’t know Him and choose to reject His love, it allows Satan to get a foothold in those people and in turn, on the situation. Let me be clear about one thing: Satan is behind each and every one of these school shootings. He is a master manipulator. For those who are reading this, rolling their eyes…well, he’s manipulating you at this moment. I know because he used to have a hold in me, too. I know what he’s capable of. He is the one who convinces these poor, lost kids that violence is some sort of glorified revenge. But you know what else he’s behind? He’s behind all this hatred in our country. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and that’s why he loves division. As long as we’re all fighting, he stays in control and NOTHING CHANGES.

It’s time for us, as Christians, to step up. Maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can start in our own little areas. It’s time to spread the message of God’s love, even if it makes people uncomfortable. It’s time to show our kids that they are created for a purpose, that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that there is more to this life than what they’re seeing in their schools and even at home. It’s time to help them see the joy and peace that God can give them, even in the midst of the worst circumstances. It’s time for us, as adults, to take responsibility for these kids. All of them, not just our own. It’s time to pray fervently – for our kids, for our parents, for our teachers, for our schools – because we know that prayers are not just empty words but powerful pleas that can move mountains.

I believe with all my heart, Christians, that if we want to see a change in this world, it has to start with us. So let’s come together. Let’s rise above the hate and stop getting caught up in all the arguing and blaming and pointing fingers. Jesus called us to spread His message to all the world, and we need it now more than ever.

We believe because we’ve seen what Jesus can do in our own lives. We’ve seen what prayer can do, what choosing love can do. We’ve experienced His power. Let’s help the world experience it, too.

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A Prayer for our Schools

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another school year – my tenth year in the classroom. In this house, an odd mix of excitement and nervous dread fills the rooms as my soon-to-be first-grader prepares himself for something new (“Why did the summer go so fast, Mom? I thought we had almost eighty days off! What if I don’t have friends in my class? What if I miss you too much? What if I just want to play outside but I’m stuck at my desk for hours?”).

Tonight, as I make plans and get ready for my junior high students, I am overcome by an overwhelming urge to pray. Again I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Our schools, and our kids, are facing a world we’ve never known before – a world filled with hatred and pain on a scale we’ve never seen. And tonight, I’m turning to God and asking Him to be with us, to protect us and bless us as we navigate this new year.

Lord, be with our kids as they come back to us. You have created each one in Your image, each one with a specific purpose. You know their potential and see them for both who they are and who they can become.

Be with the super students, the overachievers, the ones who excel in school. Help them continue to do big things in the classroom so that they will go on to do even bigger things in this world.

Be with the ones who struggle, the ones who want to succeed but don’t have the same abilities as those straight A students. Help them to see that You have blessed them with talents and abilities and that Your plan for them will be amazing. Help them to find the path You have created for them, and let them know that they, too, will go on to do big things in this world.

Be with the students who don’t want to be there, the ones who don’t enjoy the classroom and feel stifled by the school routine. Help them to find their passion, their creative outlet.

Be with the ones who want to be there – not because they enjoy class, but because for those seven hours each day, they feel safe. They know they are free from whatever plagues them at home – abuse, neglect, hunger. They know they are guaranteed meals.

Be with the students who hate school – not because they don’t enjoy the classwork, but can’t even concentrate on learning because they feel like an outcast. Help them know they are loved and accepted when other students don’t make them feel that way. Help them see their worth in Your eyes.

Soften those students who are angry at the world. Help them to find their place in the middle of the chaos and give them a heart to know You and Your love.

Be with the parents and guardians – the involved PTA moms and dads who volunteer in the classroom, the ones who don’t know or care how their kids are doing in school, and every parent in between. Help them find ways to love and support their kids and set them up for success in school and in their lives.

And finally, be with our teachers and staff. Fill us with patience and wisdom. Help us to connect with each of our students, both in our content areas and in their lives. Help us to love them fiercely, as our own kids, even when it’s not easy. Help us to show them that in us, they have an ally, a confidant, a mentor, and a friend. Help us to be who they need us to be so that each and every student can experience success and most importantly, love and inclusion. Help us to be Your hands and feet each and every day. Help us to see each student through Your eyes, to love them as you do – for who they are now and who we know they can be.

Mighty God, please bless our schools. Help those students and teachers who know You to be Your light in this dark world. Keep all of our students safe, both in and out of the classroom. Help us all to have a successful year and to feel Your joy and peace, no matter our circumstances.

Thank You for hearing our prayers and loving us so completely. I ask these things in Jesus’ Holy name. Amen.

In the Midst of Wolves

This coming week will bring about some big changes in our house and to say that I am a bundle of emotions is an understatement.

Tomorrow, I go back to work after taking a year off for maternity leave. But what I’m struggling with even more so is the fact that my oldest son starts kindergarten on Wednesday.

For the past year, I’ve been blessed to stay home with my two boys every day. Home, where we are safe. Where I at least feel somewhat in control of what they will see and hear even though…let’s be honest…nothing is totally in a parent’s control.

On one hand, I am so excited for the experiences that he will gain with this huge step. New friends, new activities, new skills learned. He will no longer have to pretend to read his books or “read” them by memory – he will actually learn how to read the words on the page. He will learn that when he measures his toy dinosaur, it’s four INCHES, not four POUNDS (and yes, I realize that I could teach him this myself…but it’s just too cute to correct.) He will begin to learn that the world really isn’t centered around him as he figures out what it means to work with others and be part of something bigger than himself.

On the other hand, Matthew 10:16 keeps creeping into my mind: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” These were Jesus’ words as he spoke to His disciples, warning them of persecutions that would come in His name. But I can’t help but feel they apply to this situation as well. Call me dramatic, but a part of me feels as though I’m sending my sweet, innocent boy into a pack of wolves. Even though I have every confidence that his teacher and the school administrators will provide a safe learning environment and will do everything in their power to take care of my baby while he’s away, this big step toward independence has my stomach in knots because I know that not all of his experiences will be good and there’s nothing I can do to shelter him from those bad things. He may get teased. He may get left out. Or, an even greater fear of mine: he may be the one doing the teasing or leaving others out. Either way, I won’t be there to protect him or correct him. He’s going to hear other kids say things I don’t allow him to say. And, like I did in elementary school, I’m sure he’ll experiment a little with those “bad words” himself. Along with all those exciting things he will learn from his teacher, he will also learn things from other kids that will make me cringe.

And when I think about his innocent mind being filled with inappropriate things, his beautiful little eyes being opened to what the world has to offer, it makes me want to lock him in the house with me and never leave again.

So today, I have to lean on God’s promises – things that I know are true.

First of all, He promised this: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I have to trust that the foundation that we and our church family have provided for him at home will go with him even as he grows…even as he experiments with things he knows better than to say or do…and that at the end of the day, he will remember his faith in a God that is bigger than this world.

I am also reminded of Jesus’ words and promise in Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” I know that this verse seems to address worrying in regards to money, but it applies to all worry. And it reminds me that our God provides, and He is in control. Worrying about what Aven will see or hear or do won’t change anything – it’s all part of His perfect, bigger-than-I-can-comprehend plan for Aven’s life. None of it has ever been up to me in the first place – I’m just the one who is lucky enough to watch him grow up so that he can fulfill the purpose that God has for him here on this earth.

I ask you to pray for all of our kids, teachers, and staff all over our nation as we begin a new school year in an uncertain and unsafe world. There are so many kids who can’t wait to come back to school, just to know for certain they will have their next meal or that they can have seven full hours without being beaten or abused by a family member. Please pray for the safety and success of all of our kids – our future – and for their teachers, that they will not only teach them what they need to know, but that they will be a light in this world of darkness and a symbol of peace and safety.