To Prospective Teachers After Parkland

While I usually blog about my journey as a single mother, as a teacher I occasionally also write about topics surrounding education. In the wake of last week’s newest school shooting, I felt the need to address new or prospective teachers, especially as I am currently supervising a student teacher in my classroom this semester.

An open letter to to my student teacher and all those considering entering the teaching profession after the Parkland, Florida school shooting:

I was eager to take on a student teacher this spring, eager to share my knowledge and my classroom with someone so full of untapped energy and enthusiasm for the subject I’m passionate about and the profession I have proudly worked in for sixteen years. I was ready and willing to share with you lesson plans, grading tips, assessments, and classroom management strategies. I was even ready to share my flaws and flops in hopes that they would not become your own.

I was not ready for another mass shooting in another school by another troubled young person. No one, despite our drills and training, is ever ready for that.

And in the days just after Parkland, I failed you by not having an honest, open conversation about it. I went on teaching the kids like it hadn’t happened, I went on trying to teach and guide you like it hadn’t happened, because I thought it best to keep a sense of normalcy and safety in our classroom. But it did happen, and it proved that our classrooms are not always the sanctuaries we hope to create. And now that our nation, our profession, and I have had some time to process, I feel the need to say a few things to you and anyone else wanting to be a teacher.

This isn’t normal.

Your day-to-day worries should be, and most often will be, consumed with kids needing your help, parents needing your guidance, counselors needing your input, administrators needing paperwork, and essays needing to be graded. You should and hopefully will lose more sleep over where to sit chatty Charlie or what you can do about Suzy’s home situation, than where to hide a classroom of kids from an armed gunman.

But this is your new reality.

Though it will likely only ever be a fraction of all the things you as a teacher will have to juggle, keeping the kids and yourself safe will be one of your new responsibilities. Hopefully the only real emergency you ever have to deal with is a flare up in the teacher’s room microwave from an over-cooked bag of popcorn. But you will have to train, drill, and prepare for the worst. You will have to assess your new classroom for not only the best place to hang that inspirational poster, but also for escape routes and everyday objects that could be used as weapons against an attacker. You will also have to find the words to explain to mere children why we practice barricading doors or hiding in closets. If you ever find the perfect words, please pass them on; I never have.

For now.

The amazing thing is I doubt this will scare you away from becoming a teacher. If you’ve made it this far in your career path it’s because you already know what I’m about to tell you: It’s worth it. Not because your subject is important. Oh, sure, your love of literature or science may have been what pushed you in the path of education, but it’s not what kept you here. The kids are why you’re here. They are why you’ll work for less pay than you deserve, accept less respect from society than you’ll earn, and worry more than you ever thought possible. The kids, and the chance they provide to change the future, are why the stress, worry, and fear are all worth it—even if it is deplorable that a teacher or child should ever have to be afraid in a school.

While it may seem some days, like the day of the Parkland shooting, that you are about to take on an impossible task and an unbearable responsibility, you are also being given a great gift. You are being given the chance to teach the next generation about respect, empathy, and compassion, so that no child grows up without anyone to turn to and so instead turns to violence. You are being given the opportunity to teach them to question the powers that be, to speak up when they disagree, and to make changes so that their children can spend more time practicing thinking skills and less time practicing survival skills.

So don’t give up on teaching. Don’t give up on the kids. New teachers create new hope for a better world. And a better world is what you, and they, and we all deserve.

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