a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Monday, February 17, 2014

in which I explain why I did not CELEBRATE this week

I hate to miss a CELEBRATION link-up. 

I know that the whole point is no matter what, if we look hard enough, we will see the reasons to celebrate. 

I know the reasons to celebrate are there.  I do, believe me, I do.

But it just doesn't feel right this weekend.

Although I am full of gratitude, my heart is not light. 

This Thursday morning, just a few minutes after I had arrived at school (about a half hour before the official start of our school day), we were told by the local police department to go into a soft lockdown (indicating we had to stay put, but not take cover).  We had students arriving to school.  Buses picking kids up at stops.  Although we have very specific instructions for lockdown procedures, we had never practiced a lockdown during such a transitional time of the day.

Our administrators were calm, collected, and directive.  We were told exactly what to do.  We gathered students in safe locations based on grade levels.  Students were escorted from vehicles and sidewalks into the building by school personnel and/or law enforcement officials.  We got word that buses would not be dropping students off.  They, too, were on lockdown.

There had been a shooting in the community and the suspect was still at large. 

Calls had gone out from the Sheriff's department, alerting citizens not to answer their doors and to remain indoors.  We were going to be on lockdown indefinitely. 

Buses had to be emptied, so that elementary school students who might be waiting at bus stops could be taken to safety.  Our bus riders were taken to the village recreation center to clear the buses.  Other district staff pitched in to supervise. 

After only a couple hours, we were given the all clear.  The news was not reporting that the suspect had been apprehended.  We weren't sure why we had been cleared.  However, I conveyed with complete honesty to my students that I felt nothing but confidence that we were in good hands.  The people making decisions knew what they were doing; I was sure of it.  Later, it turned out that the police did, in fact, have the suspect in custody, but they were not announcing it (perhaps due to the nature of the investigation or due to charges not being ready to file).  They were only announcing that people of interest had been brought in for questioning.  I trust their process.  I trust they had reasons for releasing information the way they did. 

Students were sent back to class.  We had a constant stream of all-calls for students whose parents had come to school to get them--to see their faces, to hug them, to know they were safe.  We awaited the arrival of bus riders who had been relocated to the rec center. 

As the day went on, I processed how lucky we were. 

The community incident did not directly impact our building.  One of the victims attended our high school and a family member attends another district school. Although this may seem like a selfish thing to be thankful for, I mean it more out of respect and understanding that the people in the buildings directly affected by the incident will experience this differently than the people in our building who are once removed. 

The police communicated with our school district and put supports in place immediately to keep our students safe.

The police caught the suspect so quickly that we were even able to return to class in time to still provide breakfast to our students and deliver lunch on our regular schedule.  This seems petty in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment, I knew that food delivery played an important role in making the day feel normal for our students.

Our students were incredibly respectful and calm throughout the lockdown and the rest of the day.

Our administration recognized the benefit of allowing students to use cell phones to keep in contact with friends and family members throughout the lockdown and for a while afterward.

There was not a single moment when I didn't have complete confidence that the people in charge were making decisions in the best interest of our students.  I knew our kids were as safe as the circumstances allowed them to be.  

All in all, a horrible situation uncovered a lot of reasons to be thankful. 

But somehow, that is not the feeling I am left with.  Something about living through this still has me a bit shaken.  I feel so small all of a sudden.  It is easy to get wrapped up in guilt about feeling lucky when there are victims whose family has been ripped apart. 

However, I am even more overwhelmed by nagging thoughts about the suspect.  What causes a person to do such a thing?  Somebody was this guy's 8th grade teacher.  What can I do to prevent my students from becoming this guy?  How can I make a difference, a real difference in the lives I touch? 

This is on my mind tonight.  Sure, I am thinking about lesson plans; I am thinking about common core standards, parent-teacher conferences, and updating grades.  But I am also thinking about whether an hour and a half a day in my classroom has the potential to reach into a student’s heart, make a connection, change a trajectory.  I am thinking about how to make my teaching matter. 

I am thinking about a lives lost and lives yet to be saved.


  1. Sorry to hear about the incident. Some things will never make sense. Some questions will never be answered. You know that you do your best not just teaching the students reading and writing, but helping them grow into kind adults. It takes a village to raise a child. I am not sure words help you right now. I just wanted to let you know I listened. A hug?

  2. It seems to me this is a celebration of sorts....you are all OK and life went back to normal.
    The questions you have, I have them too. When we went into lockdown last year it was very similar to what you experienced. I was so grateful that we had practiced these routines with our students, that we could talk about the experience together and they understood the need for the lockdown.

    Because it was a former student, the questions remain....what could I have done differently to reach this kid. How could I have helped him (and his brothers)? I keep coming back to this, I will never know how many kids I have made a difference for, how many stayed in school or how many helped a friend or stopped someone from hurting themselves or others because I cared and I showed it. We just don't know. We have to just keep doing what we do...building relationships one kid at a time.

  3. I know we all try to help each student make the good choices, feel good enough about herself or himself to ask for help when needed, to surround oneself with positive people. I've been involved with many middle schoolers through the years, and have lost some, through mental problems that weren't addressed mostly, and beyond any power I had, although I did try. Your response is what comes from a good teacher, and what is also the most challenging, isn't it?

  4. Christy,
    I'm going to put some of my email to you here. For your record, for the community.

    I'm so sorry to hear this. My heart hurts, and I know your heart does too. There is no way to make sense of the evil and violence. It is a hazard of our world.

    I've been struggling with a stance I've been considering. It is this: Celebration saves. I wonder if it is true. Your writing and your process of filtering the events and finding the gratitude is helping me shift through my beliefs about celebration.

    What if you wouldn't have looked for the celebration? What if you would have given up? Chalked up the event to something senseless and sad?

    Your celebration is one of true grit. It's not fun. It's not pretty. It's not joyful. But it is still a celebration.

    And because you celebrated with grace and honesty, evil does not win. Good triumphs. Your story will LIFT others to work to make a difference. It takes many to overcome evil. But it begins with one. As you LIFT your voice, you inspire others to make a difference. It is these moment by moment choices we make that change the world.

  5. Tears as I read...especially at "What can I do..."

  6. The parents coming to see their children's faces and hug them brought tears to my eyes as a grandparent now. I sadden every time I hear of a school threatened or broken. Times have changed. Teachers take on a more important role than ever now in every respect. We know it and still do it. You are truly in the trenches. I celebrate you, Christy, and all the teachers that are there for our students.

  7. We both know the finality of this event. You're right, "our" kids were...great? Calm? Respectful? Quiet? Yeah, quiet. I know from later discussions that the "what if" question was on their minds. Not the "what if he was in our building" but the "what if this happened to MY family?" That is a hard lesson for adults, let alone a middle-school child. We can only hope that we do our best to nurture the human heart inside each and every student, including our most difficult students, and then pray tender mercies over them...that they do not become the shooter, or the victim. Then we must support each other. (Have I told you lately that I'm so glad to be back upstairs?)

  8. What a heart breaking story of such a stressful morning and yet you noticed the heart warming wonder of kids, teachers and administrators being on their A plus game, all of them, helping each other through a tough time. As I read your post I was reminded that my dad used to say, "You really learn a lot about how people handle the tough stuff."

  9. I cannot imagine how scary that must have been. I love that you take it back to your teaching and how you can try to prevent such a horrible thing from happening with one of your students. This shows so much about your own character. I often worry about the lessons I share with my kids and whether they are what they need and what impact I will have. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of our role as educators.


  10. Wow. If only all of us could keep that at the forefront always: How to make our teaching matter. How to reach each child. Thank you so much for this post.