Student Teachers Reflect on Parkland School Shooting

February 23, 2018 by

Image of Anetta Shirky in front of her university

“School is supposed to be a safe place…”

“Under-educated and over-armed… that’s so us right now…”

“What gets me is how many times this is gonna happen, how many kids are going to die in school, before we pay attention to the mental health issues in teenagers.”

“What I think is crazy, is the idea that arming teachers is the answer. We don’t even have money to buy pencils, and we are supposed to pay for certifications, trainings and whatever to tote a gun into a classroom? I’m switching my major…”

The shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and the school shootings that preceded it have left me and my fellow education majors at West Virginia University just plain scared. Scared enough to talk of switching majors, dropping out of the competitive five-year program we worked hard to get into, and abandoning what we know to be our life’s mission: the education of children.

“It’s like our entire responsibility has changed.” Emily said, “teaching is about figuring out how to help our students learn, how to help them grow and reach their full potential. But after this, we are all planning what we will do if a gunman appears in our classroom door.”

There were other perspectives too (we are in West Virginia after all). “We aren’t going to get rid of guns, that’s for sure. I mean… they are everywhere, I have three myself,” said Courtney. “But we somehow need to get to the kids before they totally go off the deep end. This kid was obviously messed up. All his classmates knew it was going to happen. Why didn’t their teachers, principal, or whoever, listen to them?”

Courtney’s question pointed to the thread of hope in an otherwise disheartening conversation.

As teachers, we can show every student that he is loved, and that life – his and everyone else’s – has value.

The teacher that we all strive to be is an answer to this desperate problem. While people blame the NRA, Trump, the FBI, mental health, and a hundred other significant factors, we turn our focus to our future classrooms – the place where we believe we can make a difference. We know that it is loneliness, anger, self-doubt, hopelessness, and utter desperation that cause tragedies like those at Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, and Columbine. And we have the desire, if not the support, individual time, and training to combat this. Teachers spend eight hours of every day trying to form connections with students, trying to give them the tools to realize their hopes and dreams, and trying to help them discover the talents and abilities that make them unique.

We can’t eliminate guns entirely, we can’t find a universal remedy for mental illness and depression, we can’t outfit every school with enough metal detectors and security officers to thwart the most determined intruder, but we can show every child who steps into our classrooms that he is loved, that he has a purpose in his life, that there is help and support available, and that life – his and everyone else’s – has value. Many children are desperately short on love (real love that listens, encourages, admonishes, takes action), and teachers must show that problems can be solved, not by picking up a gun, but by open communication and asking for and accepting help. This is how we as education majors have an obligation to do our part.

Anetta Shirky lives in Morgantown and attends West Virginia University, where she is studying elementary education.   Comments

About the author

Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky lives at the Mount Community, where she teaches the fifth and sixth grades.

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    Anit June
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  • Beyond the world of thought, problems are not solved with either-or solutions.

  • You are so right about teachers not carrying guns in school I wish one knew what the right thing would be to protect our children

  • Why should teachers have to do everything and accept all the responsibility for the children. No one has mentioned the role of the parents, and as for Trump suggesting that the teachers carry a gun - words fail me. They and the children need our love and prayers.

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