Monday, April 20, 2009
Ten years ago today, I was in my second year of teaching in an inner-city school. To call it like my kids, it was very ghetto. All of the teachers were the same ethnicity and extremely tight with each other except for those of us that taught English as a Second Language and we were all another ethnicity and mostly brand new to the school. Right before school got out, my principal got on the intercom and made an announcement that we would be having an emergency meeting after school. By that time, news had trickled in about what was happening in Columbine, CO and a sense of disbelief was quite high among teachers and students. It was honestly a relief when that bell rang and the kids walked out the door. We all filed into the cafeteria so quietly and somber. Now my principal was a very very religious man. He preached a lot at his church and sometimes his lectures to us sounded more like gospel Sunday sermons. He came in a little after us and walked up to the microphone as we all waited for some type of emergency protocol or words of comfort. Instead we got this, "What is wrong with you white people? You never hear of black kids shooting up a school". Not exactly words of wisdom and the racial aspect was a tad bit discomforting. Oh well. Everything about that school was a little bit discomforting: teachers who couldn't or didn't teach, kids literally running down the hallways during every class, water running down my chalkboard when it rained, pigeon droppings blowing through the air conditioning vents, coaches pocketing candy sales, gang shooting out the front windows every weekend. It was so dysfunctional that I was the only ESL person who came back after my first year from what used to be an eight person department. The principal had neglected to go to personnel and had not hired anyone to replace those who had left. This is how I became department head as a 2nd year teacher. A department with 300 students that didn't speak English and one teacher. Good times. Ok, I've totally digressed here. It was horrible to be a teacher 10 years ago on April 20th. The rest of the school year was kind of a tense blur and there definitely was another humongous sigh of release when that final bell rang on the last day of school. The reason I say it was so horrible is that for me there were so many questions about why that tragedy happened, what could have been done and a lingering thought that it could happen at my school. For my principal to make that comment, besides sounding stupid, he was just being plain naive. Looking at my classes today, I see several kids diagnosed as bipolar, kids with obvious gang affiliation, kids with drug issues, kids with lack of any parental supervision issues.....on and on....but I gotta say, I don't see potential killers, I just see kids. I see too many kids however. I see potential issues that can't possibly be addressed. The school is huge and my classes way too large. I hate to think that I lump kids into categories but I know sometimes my impressions of a certain kid on a specific day can be fleeting with so many things to do and so many students to teach. I think there were too many variables at play to pinpoint school or class size as the reason why the tragedy happened in Columbine. But looking at my classes today and thinking about my kiddos back then, I do wish that my classes were smaller and I was able to spend more time with them. I wish that I was better able to get to know them better. I also hope that all that happens today in all the schools everywhere is just remembering and reflecting upon the past.