What I tell my students after a school shooting

December 15, 2019

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As a high school teacher, talking with my students about school shootings is one of the hardest subjects I have to cover. I never know what to say, or if I should say anything at all. 

I didn’t say anything about Parkland for two weeks.

I stood in front of my students day in and day out, suffocated by my own fear and the responsibility of keeping my students safe.

Ever since having Will, I look at my students differently. Yes, they are my students and they are growing teenagers with independent thought and creative ideas. But they are also someone else’s baby. Their moms look at the greasy hair and the sweat from basketball practice and see a chubby toothless smile and soft skin cradled in their arms. 

Knowing that these moms and dads kiss foreheads and drop them in the busy parking lot, trusting their big grown baby to me and my team is a heavy mantle.

And I cannot promise these parents that I can keep their kids safe.

My students know this, too. They express their fears when they jump out of their seat when there’s a fire alarm, when they pick the topic for their speeches, and when they tell me why they’re anxious every day.

While that reality is overwhelming, avoiding the conversation with my students felt like I was giving it more power.

So, two weeks after the horrific shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, I finally said something to my students. From my classroom on the third floor with two giant glass windows, I told my students the truth. I was calm and measured, until I told them how hard it was for me to stand in front of them and not be able to promise protection. To this day, I remember the red, watery eyes, the silence in the room, everyone feeling the same fear, the same reality. 

While the internet wages war and two polarized political camps cannot make systematic change, I still have students walk in my door every day and look to me to take care of them, both physically and emotionally. Some of them were in kindergarten when a shooting took place at an elementary school in our district. Some of them are daughters and friends of victims of the Vegas and Borderline shooting. The fear is not misguided or misplaced. 

But even though it’s common, even though it’s a normal part of 2019, I still grapple with what to say to my actual students, the ones whose faces I think about, pray for, the ones who look at me to know what’s true and good. 

Ever since Parkland, I say something as soon as possible. Every time there’s a fire alarm, every time there’s a loud and unexpected noise that causes kids to jump, I say something out loud to the 40 students whose moms are hoping I take good care of them. 

This is what I say:

  1. Acknowledge and honor the emotion that pops up. 

    Some of them are numb because school shootings are a normal occurrence. Some of them are terrified because they’ve lived it before, and some of them are anxious just because this is real and scary. Regardless of what they’re feeling, I encourage them to name it and tell a trusted adult if they need extra support and attention.

  2. Do something good. 

    I share with them Mr. Roger’s quote about looking for the helpers when scary things happen. And I encourage them to do something good for someone else today, whether it’s a text to a friend they haven’t talked to in awhile or bringing someone food just because. The act of doing something good reminds us that there is still joy and hope and peace in the middle of scary times.

To be honest, this is what I tell myself as well. As a colleague so aptly said, our job as teachers is too important these days. I have lots to say about what parents and communities can do to support and work alongside their teachers and school districts, but that’s for another time.

There is so much out of our control. I read along and support Moms Demand Action and have worked with my school’s admin on our own school safety protocol. But in the day to day, very little is within my power outside of my own students. So when the tragedy hits, I do my best to narrow my focus on them with as much honesty as I can.

My final piece of advice on this matter, to anyone who feels like this is too much (because it is), is to get counseling. I consider myself a healthy person. I’ve got two parents who are still married, a husband who loves me, adorable kids, and friends galore. And I need a therapist (a good one, too). When you have to use the words mass shooting and school in one sentence, it’s obvious that this is all too much.

So, acknowledge it. Do something good for someone else. And then get a therapist to help you make sense of all these senseless topics so that we can breathe just a bit deeper tomorrow.

Work with me

share this post

hey, i'm corrie!

I help people-driven companies, large and small, connect with their kind of people with brand voice strategy + personalized copy. A believer in public schools and Ted Lasso, I love getting to champion the best version of your brand. 

IMG_8979.JPG

As a high school teacher, talking with my students about school shootings is one of the hardest subjects I have to cover. I never know what to say, or if I should say anything at all. 

I didn’t say anything about Parkland for two weeks.

I stood in front of my students day in and day out, suffocated by my own fear and the responsibility of keeping my students safe.

Ever since having Will, I look at my students differently. Yes, they are my students and they are growing teenagers with independent thought and creative ideas. But they are also someone else’s baby. Their moms look at the greasy hair and the sweat from basketball practice and see a chubby toothless smile and soft skin cradled in their arms. 

Knowing that these moms and dads kiss foreheads and drop them in the busy parking lot, trusting their big grown baby to me and my team is a heavy mantle.

And I cannot promise these parents that I can keep their kids safe.

My students know this, too. They express their fears when they jump out of their seat when there’s a fire alarm, when they pick the topic for their speeches, and when they tell me why they’re anxious every day.

While that reality is overwhelming, avoiding the conversation with my students felt like I was giving it more power.

So, two weeks after the horrific shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, I finally said something to my students. From my classroom on the third floor with two giant glass windows, I told my students the truth. I was calm and measured, until I told them how hard it was for me to stand in front of them and not be able to promise protection. To this day, I remember the red, watery eyes, the silence in the room, everyone feeling the same fear, the same reality. 

While the internet wages war and two polarized political camps cannot make systematic change, I still have students walk in my door every day and look to me to take care of them, both physically and emotionally. Some of them were in kindergarten when a shooting took place at an elementary school in our district. Some of them are daughters and friends of victims of the Vegas and Borderline shooting. The fear is not misguided or misplaced. 

But even though it’s common, even though it’s a normal part of 2019, I still grapple with what to say to my actual students, the ones whose faces I think about, pray for, the ones who look at me to know what’s true and good. 

Ever since Parkland, I say something as soon as possible. Every time there’s a fire alarm, every time there’s a loud and unexpected noise that causes kids to jump, I say something out loud to the 40 students whose moms are hoping I take good care of them. 

This is what I say:

  1. Acknowledge and honor the emotion that pops up. 

    Some of them are numb because school shootings are a normal occurrence. Some of them are terrified because they’ve lived it before, and some of them are anxious just because this is real and scary. Regardless of what they’re feeling, I encourage them to name it and tell a trusted adult if they need extra support and attention.

  2. Do something good. 

    I share with them Mr. Roger’s quote about looking for the helpers when scary things happen. And I encourage them to do something good for someone else today, whether it’s a text to a friend they haven’t talked to in awhile or bringing someone food just because. The act of doing something good reminds us that there is still joy and hope and peace in the middle of scary times.

To be honest, this is what I tell myself as well. As a colleague so aptly said, our job as teachers is too important these days. I have lots to say about what parents and communities can do to support and work alongside their teachers and school districts, but that’s for another time.

There is so much out of our control. I read along and support Moms Demand Action and have worked with my school’s admin on our own school safety protocol. But in the day to day, very little is within my power outside of my own students. So when the tragedy hits, I do my best to narrow my focus on them with as much honesty as I can.

My final piece of advice on this matter, to anyone who feels like this is too much (because it is), is to get counseling. I consider myself a healthy person. I’ve got two parents who are still married, a husband who loves me, adorable kids, and friends galore. And I need a therapist (a good one, too). When you have to use the words mass shooting and school in one sentence, it’s obvious that this is all too much.

So, acknowledge it. Do something good for someone else. And then get a therapist to help you make sense of all these senseless topics so that we can breathe just a bit deeper tomorrow.

Work with me

hey, i'm corrie!

I help people-driven companies, large and small, connect with their kind of people with brand voice strategy + personalized copy. A believer in public schools and Ted Lasso, I love getting to champion the best version of your brand. 

share this post

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