Friday, March 2, 2018

Mass School Shootings: When Will They End?

Time Magazine
May 3, 1999
The world I grew up in was very different. I grew up with sever weather drills, not active shooter drills. Then, in April 1999 the world changed. Two high school students walked into their school and opened fire. To an eighth grader none of this made sense. I think it was even harder for our parents because most of them dealt with a fear of nuclear warfare, not home-grown dangers. Columbine was an anomaly. This type of thing didn't happen and it definitely wasn't normal.

Our school didn't change overnight; students came in the next day and while everyone was talking about the "news" in the hallway, classes continued as always. A week later a letter went home stating that due to an increase in scoliosis, backpacks would no longer be allowed in the school. No one even questioned the timing of this letter however the next year when we were suddenly allowed clear or mesh bags confusion set in. The letter turned out to be a way to ban bags where weapons could be hidden without scaring the community. The school board was beginning to take precautions to prevent the same thing from happening in our neighborhood.

Since Columbine, school shootings have increased at an alarming rate. Now, almost twenty years later school shootings are sadly a common occurrence. I currently work in a school building that was designed to be active shooter ready. The windows are bullet resistant and the doors are designed to let people out but not in without a key. Active shooter drills teach students how to search out the safest hiding place in the event of a shooting. Teachers are trained to help keep those students calm while we are honestly just as scared.

So what can we do? There is more than one issue at play and honestly I think we need to look at this from all sides. The two major issues that come to light every time a tragedy happens are gun control and mental health. I don't want to get political on this blog post so I won't write my opinion on the two topics but I do think they need to be discussed by the politicians. We can't just continue to ignore them and hope the violence ends.

I'm proud of the students in Parkland and across the nation for not just hiding but turning this tragedy into a catalyst for change. I support their efforts no matter what the end result becomes.

Hiding Behind a Screen: The Reality of Cyber Bullying

Did you know that there are people that actually have nothing better to do with their time and insult others on the internet? We are trying to teach our students about cyber bullying and how to prevent it, but the reality is we can't prevent it. Sometimes the cyber bullies are strangers that you've never met.

Screenshot of Wheel of Fortune
November 2, 2017
For example, I was recently a contestant on a national game show. Admit it, you've seen it by now. The show is not live and I had filmed back in August before the school year began. On November 2nd, I gathered my friends at the local Chili's (thanks for hooking my school with 15% back). We had a great party and even had the local news out to cover the fundraiser (sadly, it didn't air).

After the episode aired, my phone started going berserk with congratulatory posts on social media and text messages.

The problem is, while I won a good amount of money and was surrounded by family and friends, my brain decided to focus on the negative. I couldn't believe that people I never met before were saying such mean things about me and my fellow contestants. Here are just a few of my "favorite" Tweets from the night of my episode. I blurred out the names to protect the bullies, but this is what my mind focused on instead of the positives of winning.

First of all, anyone that knows me will admit I am a naturally loud person. That's just me in general and is helpful when I need students to hear me from the other side of the room. However, at Wheel of Fortune the contestant coordinators spend the morning pepping you up. "Loud" and "Louder" are heard may times during the practice rounds. It's their way of helping to encourage the excitement and reduce the nervous whispers. They remind you that when solving a puzzle, you need to read it loud, slow, and pronounce each word carefully.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't enjoying my victory because of these complete strangers. I was allowing them to consume my thoughts, and why? This is what we are constantly teaching our students about but for some reason, the fact that it was strangers made it worse.

So how can we help our students deal with cyber bullying? Perhaps we should just be real with them. Students often look at teachers through rose colored glasses, not as actual human beings. We need to relate to students so that when we offer antidote stories and advice they understand where it's coming from. We can also teach students to think before they post. We are all guilty of it; posting in the heat of the moment and then looking back "why'd I post that?" Perhaps show students how to save in draft mode, wait a few minutes (or until the next day), and then re-read before posting.

I'm sure there are tons of things we can do to help the victims, accidental bullies, and actual bullies. The first step is opening the dialogue.