what are we going back to?

I didn’t hear anything about what had happened in Connecticut on Friday until my   mother sent me a text that seemed so out of the blue – “18 Elementary school kids & 6 adults in Ct. Just go home…gonna turn on the news…”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  After school ended I joined some of my co-workers at a local bar we used to frequent, and we vented and ate and had a drink or two.   I saw some footage on CNN (because every single restaurant and bar has at utter minimum, one TV in it) about a massacre in Newtown, but it wasn’t until I got home that I read all about it.  (I didn’t even have NPR on in the car driving home.)

I caught myself up on what was still a good deal of incorrectly reported information, and after a particularly difficult week at my job, I just sort of felt hopeless.  I fell asleep on the living room couch for about three hours, and woke up and headed to bed.

I spent all of my Saturday busying myself with various pursuits, and even spent some time with the husband and some of his clients.  (Said clients are 18-28, and most suffer from some disorder on the autism spectrum or other developmental conditions.  This matters later.)

At some point today, which was mostly spent doing laundry before our upcoming trip, I read more about the horrors that occurred in the small town in Connecticut.  Many people have spent a lot of time this weekend trying to make sense of what happened, in one way or another.  What I can’t stop thinking of is how that’s all going to come out tomorrow morning, as children go back to school, and their teachers may end up having to answer questions about what would happen in a homicidal maniac broke into their school.

People, especially empowered by social media, have come to terms with what happened in a variety of ways.  A lot of people have spent their weekends sharing strong opinions on gun control, for or against, or mental health treatment on some sort of social media this weekend, and a lot of people also shared the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”  blog post.

I do have to share two thoughts on that particular piece.  One: obviously  did not grow up using Live Journal, where if you had fantasies about injuring a family member, you made that crap friends only.  Or you made it so only a custom group of close friends could read it.  Maybe my mother’s warnings sharing my whole life online were more prescient than I give her credit for.  They began at age 13 and they echo in my head to this day.  (Note: she loves this blog, so I’ve probably gotten something right.)  The frankness and negativity with which she speaks of her children is honestly upsetting to me.  While I don’t have kids, I deal with parents and kids on a daily basis, often way more than I want to.  Even if I one day want to throttle my figurative teenage daughter or yell at my five-year-old for crying (because there’s no better way to get a kid out of a chronic crying habit than to yell at them!!), I would not feel good about posting that for the world to see.

Secondly, anyone who has ever worked with any child with any developmental disability knows that, yes, they follow patterns.  Yes, there is a DSM book that counselors use to diagnose psychological conditions for a reason.  But every kid with a  developmental disorder is different.  Every single one of them.  When I worked with a self-contained class for the first time, that’s what struck me the most about these kids.  They were such strong personalities, every single one of them, and so individualistic.  They call it an autism spectrum for a reason.

So yes single mom with four kids who complained that she had to give up her freelance career for a college gig (a job I’d love to have myself), you have a sometimes violent, special needs child, but for you to claim to have any understanding of the inner workings of Adam Lanza’s family is ignorant and opportunistic.  And have you ever thought that maybe one day, your kids will read and be aware of the fact that millions of other people have now read about the bodily harm you wanted to inflict upon them?

For more critique, read an analysis by an excellent writer, Sarah Kendzior.

So now there is the task of going back to school, for millions of teachers and students in the next 6-12 hours.  While I personally have tried to stay distracted all this weekend, it hits you right upfront when you think about Monday morning.  Most schools are almost on their Winter Break, so typically students and teachers are a little more laid back this time of year.  That won’t happen tomorrow morning.

I was in 10th grade during Columbine.  I never genuinely feared a copycat attack at my high school, and I felt safe where I was.  Virginia Tech happened the week before I graduated college, and my last class of that day evacuated because of a fire alarm.  Turns out a professor burned popcorn on the fifth floor and they decided to take any small problem seriously that day.  As they should.

Being a teacher during this time, I will say, is the scariest circumstance of them all.  I am sure that my overactive imagination and penchant for wild disaster scenarios will make me a really paranoid parent one day.  But I’m already in that role.  When a kid is late to class or I don’t know where he or she is, I really give it to them when I explain why this is such a bad thing.  “I am legally responsible for you during this time of the day.  I can be held accountable for the things that happen during the time you’re in my class.”  Usually, this does not present an issue, but when outside circumstances create terrifying scenes as we sat in Newtown this week, the thought of my students losing their lives chills me to my core.

However, as tales of heroism by teachers, and by the principal and school staff of Sandy Hook come forth, I don’t find them surprising.  Not in the least bit.  This is what teachers do.  They take bullets for their kids, both physical and metaphorical.  They leave their marriages in ruins.  They neglect their personal health.  They spend buttloads of money on supplies (and those numbers are getting higher).  Surely there are teachers who only go into what they do for the money. As in, to have a job that receives some sort of paycheck, not to be rich.  To make ends meet.  But they sure as hell don’t stay in it for the money.  Whether they can ennumerate those reasons or not, they realize they have a chance to have a direct impact on the future course of society at large.  I don’t even have to like my co-workers to know that they would have done the same, given the circumstances.

Most teachers don’t have to take physical bullets for their kids.  Most teachers shouldn’t have to.  Well, scratch that.  No teacher should have to.  But the next time I hear people demonizing teachers unions I hope they stop and consider what happened in Newtown, CT.  The staff members who gave their lives so that their students may survive are heroes.  But in this profession, making personal sacrafices on every level is standard operating procedure.  In every classroom in America, there is a teacher not being paid what he or she is worth who will in some way, shapre or form, save a kids life this year.  Some teachers will provide warnings or give advice, some teachers might prevent suicide or abuse.

The prospect of mortal danger in my profession scares me, but so does taking I-95 to work every day.  (The latter is actually a little more scary on a day-to-day basis.)  As stated, no teacher should have to block bullets with his or her body so that their six-year-olds can go home to their parents.  But I think if put in that situation, an abnormally high percentage of teachers would absolutely do the same thing.

And tomorrow morning, after that first bell rings, there will be a lot of announcements from principals concerning what happened on Friday morning in Connecticut, trying to assuage fears and provide for safe learning environments.  And after those announcements end, there will be 20-30 different perspectives, different reactions, different clouds of information or misinformation about what happened Friday, and it will be the job of millions of teachers to bring together those perspectives and help them move past this horrific act.  Whether it happens by means of talking about it in a round-table discussion or simply pressing forward with mid-terms, it is yet another burden shared by all of America’s teachers tomorrow morning.

Wish us all luck.

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