I guess there really is such a thing as being at a loss for words.
It's been a little over a week since the tragic shooting at a local high school that killed seventeen people. I've sat down to write every morning since and continue to just stare at a blank screen. Surely I have something to say about this, right? As a teacher, as a mother, as a human being with a conscience? I'm rarely at a loss for words--words are how I make sense of things. But with this...it's so BIG. In addition to trying to quantify the sadness of it all, there are so many issues that I feel played into this and it's just so entangled and messy. Where would I start? What could I say that wouldn't sound trite or oversimplified?
I log onto social media and see other people declaring they've found the answer to the problem of why this kind of violence is happening and what we can do to solve it and they all seem so sure of themselves:
It's gun control.
It's arming teachers.
It's lack of parental support.
It's that we aren't addressing mental health issues enough.
It's lack of discipline.
It's lack of mental health resources in schools.
It’s lack of social-emotional skills.
It's lack of God.
I even read an article declaring they had found the common denominator in all these shootings—they were all boys. So let's add that to the list:
It must be our boys.
Is it copping out or being non-committal to the issues to admit that I don't feel any one of those is solely to blame? What if it's not black and white, but really gray--all these issues interplaying with each other to get us to this place?
So, if I don't have a solution to offer, I asked myself what's the point in writing about the matter at all? Am I just to throw my hands up and do nothing? What came to my mind when I asked myself that question was my own experience with grief. I remember people saying "Sorry I didn't show up, I just didn't know what to say, I couldn't help you figure this out." And I remember thinking in response, "But I didn't need you to fix anything, I just needed you to be there, to show up." So rather than not show up at all, I decided to just be here and admit whatever it is I DO know: that I don't have words for grief this big and that there are ways I can help, but a blog post on social media is not going to be one of them.
What I don't want to model for my students or my own child is that we handle grief and loss during times like these by turning to our phones rather than toward each other, using the anger and helplessness we feel to debate policies with people whose minds aren't going to change anyway. I want them to see that changing the world is not something we're going to do with a blog post or article. I want them to see me taking action in the ways that I CAN help: to take my little corner of the world--my students, my son, those I interact with daily--and make sure every day that I'm doing what what I feel can help make a change.
I can continue teaching coping skills for the students who now feel anxious about coming to school, share mindfulness practices that reduce anxiety and promote empathy for others, and have students participating in activities that help not just ourselves but our school and community. And, yes, while these types of activities are strongly encouraged in the Montessori environment, I have many friends in public schools doing the same things--I've seen tremendous growth in the public school environment during the last decade toward understanding that the need for social-emotional skill development is just as important as academics. It may not be every school, but the movement is growing.
I also think to myself, though, that it takes more than just promoting what I want to see--that it's also about taking action toward changing the things I don't. As a teacher, I can commit to looking out for the good of all by making sure that there are not just resources, but also consequences, for those who choose not to participate in making the school environment safe. I can make sure I don't become complacent when I'm seeing and hearing things that feel like red flags in my gut. I remember years ago being frustrated by the delays and inaction of the people I was told to go through in the chain of command, trying to get help for a student who, I felt, needed it urgently. I relentlessly followed up and, when I was finally met with a very firm "you need to stop calling there's nothing we can do at this point", I went to my principal. When I did, I was lucky that our leader recognized the need and, suddenly, there was action. It's extra time, it's inconvenience, but if we've learned anything, it's that there's no room for complacency.
Of course, there's the other side of being a teacher-mom: my part as a mother. I know that within that realm of the things I can control, there's that small task of raising a human who will add good to the world, rather than take it away. I may not be able to control everything he ends up doing in this world, but I have to know I tried my hardest. And, if he's ever the one I fear would put others in danger, may I be brave enough to not be in denial--to recognize that and get him the help he needs in order to keep others safe.
What feels different about this particular shooting, at least for me, is that the aftermath feels different—maybe even hopeful. It feels like more people are actually taking action this time rather than just debating policies. I follow an author, speaker, and activist whose message is that, to put an end to tragedies like these, peace and acceptance is the path, yet I also see her on Twitter making demeaning and even threatening statements to politicians whose actions she does not agree with. For those who feel driven to take action politically, it's so valuable for our kids to watch us do our part to bring about change in ways that are productive and model the very behavior we desire to see in them.
Whatever issue we're passionate about, whatever our little corner of the world looks like, there are so many ways that we can take this energy and use it for good. Whatever we decide to do, our children, as always, will be watching. I hope to show them that in times when we feel grief and anger, it's okay to admit we don't have the answer, but we can still show up. This is all I know.