Our principal has students use a daily planner extensively. Students are expected to write down assignments and test dates for their classes. There are a couple of pages that we use to mark passes to leave the classroom. These passes are a very big deal at our high school; if they don’t have their planner, they are not allowed out of the room. If the principal checks a student’s planner and they are not documenting their course work he assigns consequences. If a student loses their planner it is a hardship for them.
On Wednesday I noticed a student unwinding the plastic binding off what I assumed was his planner. He was twirling it around with apparent joy as the binding unwound. The student was supposed to be studying for a final in another class so I ask him to stop – put his planner away and please study. As we all do I got busy with other students and distractions. A few minutes passed and a student remarked that the individual had thrown the planer in the trash. Ok, my buzzer was going off now – that didn’t make sense.
That’s when I felt my stomach turn and I felt myself fill with a multitude of emotions. Emotions I did not fully understand until later. To paint a picture it pissed me off.
I am experienced enough to recognize when I need to hold my tongue. I had him retrieve the pages. It was time for the ending bell, so I waited and took the planner pages to our vice principal. I explained what had happened and turned the matter over to her. I don’t know what was said or what the consequences were for the student. I just know he was really mad at me over the incident – seriously? Mad at me?
It took me a while to understand why this incident bothered me so deeply. I finally realized what bothered me was the student’s lack of compassion for the person who had lost their planner. They are members of the same school. How hard would it have been to turn the lost planner to me and let me find the owner? Instead he chose to entertain himself by destroying what was not his.
Lack of compassion.
It was the utter lack of compassion toward the students at Sandy Hook Elementary that frightens me and scars my soul. How can any human inflict pain on another without guilt, or pain, or remorse? I cannot fathom that kind of behavior.
I understood later that evening that the student’s behavior upset me because they felt no sense of guilt or remorse for their actions. I’m not implying that my student will commit an act like the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I am saying that a problem in our society and schools is a general lack of caring and compassion toward one another.
I don’t think we will make our schools safer by arming teachers. I think we will make our schools safer by teaching our students to care about and for one another. I’m not a poster child for being a touchy-feely guy. In fact I’ll admit I’m a bit of a redneck. I ran our family ranching business for twenty years before I became a science teacher. I trained horses and pointing bird dogs. Part of our business income was from hunting. I guided quail hunts for many years. I’m a gun owner. In fact I shot competitively at the national level for more than ten years. I kind of fit the stereotype of a crusty old coot.
I relate this personal information so that perhaps you will see what some may perceive as irony. I don’t want to arm teachers in my school. I want to arm students with caring and compassion. In my years as a rancher we ran over 300 head of cows. I have had as many as 1,200 yearlings at once before. We generally had from 12-20 head of saddle horses. I usually owned 6-10 bird dogs. I was responsible for the health and well being of all those animals. It didn’t matter if it was hot or cold. It didn’t matter if it was raining. It didn’t matter if it was late at night. I had to care for those animals. I doctored them when they were sick and made sure they had feed and water. We vaccinated and maintained their health as best as we could. Yes, it was about making a profit, but I still grew up feeling the responsibility I had for the well being of those lives.
And that’s what baffles me as an educator. I don’t understand humans that mistreat animals. I truly don’t understand humans that mistreat each other. Get mad and argue – I get it. Get mad and even have a fight – I can understand. But to calmly commit an act that brings pain to another – I just don’t get it.
There was some discussion at our last school board meeting about allowing some teachers to have guns. I don’t know the status of those discussions. I just know I don’t want to be one of them. That may be curious to some who know me because of my proficiency with firearms. I’m not boasting when I say I hit what I aim at – because I do. I have the trophies to prove it. I just know that I don’t want to have to aim a firearm at another human.
I would rather we save the troubled students we have by teaching them to care for one another. I want them to grow up to be graduates that care about each other and the community. If we can do that we will save lives by avoiding the crimes in the first place.
I had all of these thoughts after school on the day of the incident. The next day the student that destroyed the planner was still visibly mad at me. I pulled him aside and explained why his actions had brought such a response from me and the vice principal. He was still mad, but he listened. He still maintained he had not done anything wrong.
At least I know I made an attempt to get him to see his actions from a different point of view. I hope that he will spend some time thinking about what happened and process the information. Maybe over the holidays he will realize that what he did was wrong.
I know myself a little better after the incident. I understand a little better one of the roles I have as an educator. I don’t just teach IPC and Physics; I also teach students what it means to be a member of a community and a society. I hope I do a good job. Sandy Hook stands as a reminder of what can happen when we fail.