I woke up early this morning and started watching the royal wedding. It’s what I’d love to focus on but I can’t stop thinking of Texas. Yesterday morning another school shooting happened outside of Houston. 10 are dead, 2 were teachers. I guess what really gets me is that the shooting began in an art room.
I have often described my working environment as teaching in the ivory tower at Memorial. I don’t see the crowded halls, hear the cursing or am even aware of the fights when they happen. I’m in my own safe world as far away from the entrance of the school as you can get. It isn’t that I don’t deal with behavior issues, because I do. This semester I have a few freshman acting like children in my class, pushing my buttons occasionally, refusing to sit down at times and in need of guidance. My job is to teach them photography and how to act like adults. I take my job seriously and it’s not easy. When I see my students, I see only wonderful people who need attention, some more than others.
The art room is a safe place for high school kids. It is a place where popularity and athleticism typically doesn’t matter. I have always seen it as the place where the real world is most prevalent in a high school—hard work pays off no matter how smart or talented you are. The immigrant who knows little English can create artwork that looks better than the 4.0 student, the special needs students often excel and the gifted sometimes complain about their grades. I love being an art teacher and I usually feel very safe in my work environment.
Yesterday’s episode scared me. The boy who struck out, was not someone anyone expected to do so, and yet students were not surprised. It was not who did the shooting that was not surprising but that the shooting happened. One student was quoted saying “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.” I think the same thing sometimes about where I work. Why not Wisconsin where it is legal to openly carry firearms? Why not Madison, where fights happen all too often? We are not immune to what ails this country. Quite the contrary, we are as typical as they come.
I once told my husband (many years ago) that if something violent happened to me, it will be because of a student. I know that haunts him and yesterday he texted me-- “It happened in the art room.” After 20 years of teaching, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just about teaching art. It’s about calling kids out on what is appropriate, it’s about feeding hungry children, comforting sad kids, empowering and challenging people to be better. I like to call a spade, a spade in my classroom. I’ll be honest, though, in the hallway, I keep to myself. I don’t interact with strangers. If I don’t have a relationship with a kid, I’m not going to call him (or her) out on anything. I might make a phone call but I don’t want to put myself into an exchange I will regret. Even in my classroom, occasionally I wonder about kids. I hate that I have to wonder if there is a killer in my classroom. Between the guns being so readily available and so many boys being so practiced at shooting anything that moves, it’s a hard question not to ask.