Disclaimer: This is my personal blog and opinion and you are free to agree or disagree, but you can share those opinions on your own platforms. I am going to continue to live my life free of your negativity, while I try to process these tragedies on my little platform here.
I have lived in Colorado my entire life. I was a student in 9th grade when Columbine happened only 30 minutes from my own high school. I have friends that were in that building (in the library no less) when those boys changed the face of schools as we all know it. Our school was evacuated, no one knew what to do, how to deal and what the heck was going on. The following days were full of threats, fear and more evacuations as our state and the nation tried to process what the hell happened. This day, shaped me, this day left an impression and this day still proves that guns were not the problem or solution.
I have worked in high schools across Colorado as a student, coach, a teacher aide (para) a tutor and a science teacher for 20 years. I have worked in schools where students bringing guns in was not an abnormality. We knew they were there and we knew why they had them. I have worked in farm town schools, in schools that were heavily funded and affluent and ones that were so broke that we couldn’t afford paper to make copies and every student was on free and reduced lunch.
I have a pretty strong background in different school environments and I can tell you why this keeps happening…especially in Colorado. We actually all know why and it is not just as simple as gun laws or mental health. Walk into any school and you will see frazzled teachers and administrators, short staffed positions, lack of supports, and students that are just as stressed, overstimulated and buried in their technology.
The demographic this keeps happening in and the perpetrators are also very clear. Typically more affluent areas are at the top of the list. Predominantly white schools with privileged students that are not being heard but are being groomed to be better than anyone else, without regard for others. White males. I can only hypothesize as to why, but I can tell you the reason this is not typical for our inner city schools. Kids raised and educated in those communities know how to deal with adversity, how to face challenges and rise from them, how to deal with conflict directly and not broadly. They also have community, they tend to face life with the understanding that they have to work for things, that any person who is an authority in their life is to be respected and that actions have consequences. The most respectful and hardest working students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching were in those communities.
To say that I am angry about what has happened in my state and in my country is an understatement. Anger is only a small sliver of the emotions I am feeling. However, one of the ones that I am not feeling is an inability to effect change. We can effect change and WE WILL.
So if it is not guns, what the heck is happening?
This is why you are here. This is what you want to read. What does someone who is living in a state that ranks 13th in the most school shootings but number one in the history books think is happening. Hold on this is going to be a long read.
1. Decrease in Education Funding
I don’t want this to become political. I honestly do not, but what I do want people to know is that funding education matters. The people who support education and run for office matter, people in those official positions and their experience in education matter and teacher unions matter. In Colorado, we are ranked 42nd in per student funding and 46th for teacher pay. Although our state has seen a massive economic and population growth, our funding is declining or staying stagnant causing a lot of repercussions.
This is not isolated to Colorado. Read news stories across the country and you will see the same basic trend and teachers fighting for better pay, better resources for our children and more support from taxpayers to help with security, mental health supports, smaller class sizes, materials that are not 30 years old and so much more.
Defunding of the mental health supports that both students and staff need is one of the major repercussions that happens when budgets are cut. Those programs and staff are nearly always the first to be cut. With those cuts comes more work put on already stressed out teachers and administration. Which brings me to #2.
2. Overworked Teachers
I work 40 hours in the building and another 10+ outside. In building (and shoot, even out because you can bet those kids reach out to me via social media/email for advice and help constantly) it is an underlying expectation that not only do I teach the content, but that I am also their voice of reason, I build relationships, I am a counselor, I am a parent, I am a disciplinarian and so many more roles. I get that, I knew that when I signed on, all teachers did. We are not complaining, but it does factor in to why this keeps happening.
Now remove those mental health supports and add on more pressure to “perform” on state tests (or lose your job) and you probably start to see that we are not able to be all things to all kids or refer to professionals who are no longer supported by the budget. Oh and make the class sizes 36 kids plus (I teach 160 kids/day).
When I was in high school, I remember having great relationships with my teachers, I could share things with them and I trusted them, if we got off topic for a class period it wasn’t the end of the world and the teacher didn’t panic about pacing or standards. It was very much an “if we get to it, we get to it, if we don’t, no biggie”. Testing was not at the forefront of proving that we were actually good teachers (because after all the only measurement of a good teacher is how well children perform on high pressure tests, right?!).
That scenario is NOT the norm anymore. We jam through content as fast as possible out of fear that we will miss something that will be on those tests and will determine if we get to keep our job or not. We spend more time in class and our planning periods, figuring out how to increase test scores, when in reality these children are so over stimulated, over stressed and unable to manage their emotions. Teachers are not all trained as counselors, and because most are so overworked and stressed themselves (and underpaid for damn sure) those kids that need the support really have nowhere to turn. Mental health in schools is low for both staff and students.
3. Disrespected and Distrusted
20 years ago teachers were trusted, they were treated as professionals, they were respected by politicians, parents and students. Never in a million years would a student think of telling a teacher that they would not put away something or hand over something and then have their parent back them up. My parents would be the first to tell the teacher to keep whatever item was taken and then give me a detention (I would also be punished at home) and that was the standard. It wasn’t necessarily that the teacher was always right, it was that they were respected and they were professionals and they were trusted. If I was misbehaving, I was called out on it and my parents supported the teacher.
Then came the era where teachers and their actions became very scrutinized. It is almost always an assumption that now the child is always right…even when they are not. I have had parents argue with me when I caught their kids with drugs and had those drugs in hand. God forbid their child is doing anything wrong, because somewhere, at some point in history, a teacher was found to be lying. So if a few were liars, then well, we all are.
We are told to build relationships with students, but to be careful because everything is being recorded, the wrong words (even jokes) will get you in the news and so we keep our distance. Ultimately we are not trusted or respected, we are just little robots, teaching content, more than half of these students will never remember instead of spending time getting to know our students passions and understanding when they are not ok.
4. Desensitized and Overstimulated
I cannot say it enough. Stop handing your kid a cell phone. If you absolutely need one because you need that peace of mind if there is a situation to text them or call them, then get the bare minimum. Kids should NOT be walking around with $1000.00 cell phones that can access so many things they should not have access to.
Think you have parental controls set up and that your kids would never set up secret accounts on other kids phones or that they would not figure out how to completely clear their browsing history or even proxy around all your locks. Think again, in fact I have students in class who have bragged about figuring out their parents password to the monitoring apps and parental controls and just bypassing them and erasing history.
I hear it and see it every single day. EVERYDAY and I cannot stress that enough. I have caught girls in class watching dominatrix porn, boys playing very very vivid murdering games (one of which actually carried out a horrific murder himself), kids sharing how they are going to pass the drugs they had a homeless person purchase via Snapchat. Parents, they are doing this. This is not isolated to those “bad kids”, if your child has access to a cell phone, they are accessing things they do not need to.
In addition, your children’s brains are not developed enough to be accessing the wide variety of information out there meant for adults via the media and internet. They do not know how to process that information, they are being forced to grow up quicker because of this and are making choices that are dangerous. We are creating a generation of children that will have PTSD from the trauma they are experiencing on social media and the Internet. They also have zero filter. If they feel something or see something, they are going to share it. No matter what the repercussions are, no matter if the source of the information is unreliable, no matter if it will harm another person. You may think you are teaching your children to be nice, but what teachers see in and out of the classroom is even the nicest kids are not coping with social media appropriately.
We constantly hear that we as teachers and schools are not dealing with the bullying issue. Well that is technically correct. We can’t deal with the bullying problem when we specifically say “no cell phones in schools” and parents and kids push back hard. You have NO idea how many times a DAY a parent calls or texts their child while they are in my classroom and how many times I have pushed back only for the parents to tell me that “it is not my job to tell their child they cannot talk to their parents”. So I stop enforcing that and students learn that if the phone rings or their messages go off they can just say “its my mom or dad” and we will pull back…because we as teachers have been bullied by the parents and of course are not respected or trusted enough.
So yes your kids (even the good ones) are using that conditioning of teachers to not question parents as a way to continue to use their cell phone and they are snapchatting photos of each other and adding inappropriate drawings, statements and much more to them. They are texting hateful words to each other. They are being horrible to each other and most of it teachers cannot see, control or deal with, because we cannot take their phones. If we do, we cannot see what they sent (invasion of privacy) and when a child finally does decide to share everything, it is sometimes too late.
There are still some schools and teachers that are fighting the good fight, but I can tell you that the trend I see each year and hear from my educator friends around the nation, is that cell phones are a battle too big for us to fight. Parents have to make that choice and they just won’t.
6. Constant Contact
Referencing a bit of the conversation above. These children are in constant contact with their parents and peers. They never get down time to process anything and they actually now choose to process that online, and wait for those likes and views to come in. When those likes and views do not perform well, research shows their mental health declines.
This constant contact is not necessary. Parents should know their children’s school schedule and contact them when they are not expected to be learning. If there is a family emergency, we have school staff that can get the information to your child. Do you really think it is a good idea to text your child that their grandma just died, when they are essentially “alone” in a classroom without an adult aware of the situation to help them process that information until you can get there….pretty heartless parents. This happens at least once a month in my classroom by the way. It is a complete distraction to your child and my classroom when all the sudden I have a child crying in class and instead of being able to console them, I have to ask them to head to the counseling office to figure out what is wrong, while I then work for the next 10 minutes to get my class back on track and fight with kids to put their cell phones away and stop checking on so and so.
My final note on this is that current research shows that students check their phone and average of 11 times a day. That is 11 times they are disengaged and distracted. 11 moments they are not hearing the instruction, they are falling behind, they are not learning. You want your kids to be successful in school and actually learn, then stop the constant contact, get rid of the phone and realize that what you are causing is more stress for your child when they missed a crucial part of the instruction and now do not understand the content, leading to frustration from both the student and teacher and likely a ding to their mental health.
Guns are the Tool, they are NOT the Cause or the Solution
Yes we need to have more gun control, yes if you are a gun owner, you need to be highly vigilant and secure with those. Yes guns are the most often used tool to complete these horrendous acts. However, they are the tool, not the cause and no matter how hard we come down on those tools, something else will come in a take that tools place.
Humans by nature are able to adapt very well. It is what makes us top predators and so advanced. If a student wants to cause harm, they will find a way and honestly they already are. Fighting gun violence by adding more guns to a situation is not a solution. You will not find the majority of teachers willing to carry a gun (did you read that we are all dealing with our own mental health, sure hand us a gun). Increasing security is welcomed, but stationing veterans or parents at entrances is not something that will stop this. Also where is the funding going to come from to pay these people? Honestly, no one volunteers for 10+ hours a day, 5 days a week at nearly 100,000 schools in this nation, we can’t even get parents to take 15 minutes to come to parent teacher conferences. Forget passing a bond or mill, voters can’t be bothered to challenge their own bottom line.
Metal detectors won’t stop this. Where there is a will, there is a way. History has proven that. We can 3D print anything and some of the most dangerous threats to humanity wouldn’t be traceable by a metal detector. This internet of ours is full of some pretty clear ways to wipe out a massive amount of people with very minor things that could easily get through a metal detector.
I wish this issue was just a simple as guns. It isn’t. It is not simple at all. It is a combination of a many different factors all of which we can change. DID YOU READ THAT?
WE CAN CHANGE!
How? How on Earth can we change this trajectory? This horrible world our kids are being raised in? This terrifying life we are living? It will take so much. SO MUCH, but we can do a lot of little things to change this and to make our nation, schools, theaters, concerts, malls and public places more secure. All are actionable items and if you really want to make a change, set your political views aside and listen to what we actually need and I PROMISE you that we will see a great change in our current state.
- Fund Education: I honestly do not care to hear your arguments for constantly voting down education measures, or for more education reform or less teacher unions. THIS IS A CORE PROBLEM. Bottom line, when you choose not to vote for education, you just screwed your own lives out of the safety and security you so cherish and you just buried another child from school violence. We are all on a budget, but one place we need to stop skimping on is schools. Oh and GET INVOLVED at your local levels. If you do not like the way something is running, get your butt to board meetings, join the PTO, do the work and effect change. If we continue to remove funding from education, from teachers salaries, from mental health supports, we will continue to see more and more of our schools under fire and our kids SCREAMING for help.
- Focus on Children’s Mental Health: Listen to your kids, they are telling us they are not ok. My own son said to me that he was depressed from our dog who died 2 years ago. He told me, he told his dad, he told his grandma, he told his teachers, his friends and so many more. You know what we did. We got him help. We had him talk with a counselor and if he needs more follow up we will do that. Your kids need you to listen to them and not just when they are blatantly saying “I am sad”. Take time each day to spend 20-30 minutes of face to face time with your children, talking, listening and helping them process things. Not over text, not with the TV in the background, not at bedtime when everyone is exhausted, not even at dinner. Set aside time to actually connect; real human connection people. Hold those babies and make them feel safe and be the parent they come to when they are in trouble and need help. When your children feel heard and are given advice from the people they love and trust the most, they can cope much better. The fact that I didn’t kill myself as a teen is solely because my own parents were listening to me, advising me, helping me cope through some really heavy stuff. If you think you are listening, listen harder.
- Trust The Teacher: It gives no teacher joy to call home on a kid, we never want to be the one to get a child, that we truly do care about, in trouble for something we know they are struggling with. Trust that we are trying to work with you, to help raise your babies to be the best possible human ever. To be confident and amazing and so so so strong. We love your babies, we need your support. Stop the “not my child” attitude and go back to the “how can WE solve this problem together” We are a team.
- Get Rid of Cell Phones: I love my phone, I love my tablet, I love my computer. Know what I love more…my children. I know you do too. I KNOW IT! I know that feeling when you just need to hear from your child, when you are terrified, because this world is so scary. Teachers are most often parents too, we feel those same emotions. This week when our own school was under a threat, our teachers who have kids in our schools daycare and as students were panicked and wanting nothing more then to get to those babies of theirs. We get it. However, as I said above, they do not need these smartphones. A simple phone that they can call and text you in an emergency contact on is all that is needed for those instances. We need to stop making “getting a fancy cell phone” a rite of passage.
- Be the Parent: I can’t even count anymore at how many times I have told a student to curb some sort of negative behavior and they said to me “my parents don’t care”. That is the absolute saddest statement to hear from a child. That you as a parent just don’t care. I know it is not the truth and I know that it is often just a saying, but there is some underlying truth to those statements. So many parents are willing to give their kids everything they never had and help them be in the popular groups and to avoid some of the negative experiences that they themselves may have experienced. Parents are also just as stressed and overworked as any one of us. This is the hardest job out there. When I do call home on a kid, often I hear the parents say that they just don’t know what to do and the very next day their child walks in with new clothes, their cell phone and bragging about how their parent said they were misbehaving in class but that they didn’t get in trouble. You are not their friend, that is not your job, you have to be the bad cop, you have to enforce rules and you have to punish offenses when the need arises. Take away things, ground them, remove them from the sports and activities that they love for a moment. Make an impression, because doing nothing or giving them everything does not show that you care. If you did, you would make sure that they understood that actions have consequences and that they will learn from their experiences and be better people because of it.
- Bedtime curfews: I also am hearing far to much that kids are not sleeping. Make a curfew, stick to it and remove electronics. Developing brains need sleep and do not need to be bombarded with TV shows, social media or the endless stimulation.
- Write your Congress People: DO IT NOW and flood them (click these links to email the House of Representatives and Senate) and do it constantly and share those links for others to write their own representatives endlessly. Tell them what you want and scream it from the rooftops, because of course politically something has to change with our gun laws (and just so you know this comes from someone who proudly owns guns and does not want my 2nd amendment right infringed upon, but I am also so fucking sick of dead kids in schools and practicing drills and mentally preparing escape plans for my sweet students while praying my own children’s teachers are doing the same).