I will never carry a gun into my classroom. However, I believe I have something far more helpful: compassion, caring, and a determination to change the world by reaching the hearts and minds of this generation. People are scared and rightly so. In one moment, a madman can destroy the lives of so many. And few people notice what is prevented by a great teacher, but I aim to be one who helps people become safer by reaching kids in the classroom.
Listen to this Blog Post as a Podcast
I tell an extra story or two in the podcast, but it is based on this post.
1. Look for the Lonely
In the recent Reader's Digest article, One Teacher's Brilliant Strategy to Stop Future School Shootings — And It's Not About Guns the author advocates a strategy where the teacher looks for kids who are left out. It's brilliant. I do it, too.
I look for the lonely. No child should have to eat alone.
Recently, I interviewed Natalie Hampton, the teenager behind the Sit With Us app, an app where students can sign up to “be ambassadors.” A lunch table ambassador won't turn away anyone who wants to eat with them. Her idea also advocates this.
Loneliness can be a sign of so many things. And while there are students who sometimes need to be alone and might just need some quiet, it is often a sign of something else going on when a child eats alone.
So, when I'm in the lunchroom, I notice if someone is eating alone. I talk to them. And then I sometimes talk to those kids who would be lunch table ambassadors like Natalie's and encourage them to invite the other student into their group. It might take a few days, but encouraging kids to be kind to one another can fight loneliness and make the world a better place.
2. Understand the Why's Behind the Eyes
As students come into my classroom, I call them by name and look at their eyes. When I see something amiss, I'll find a way to talk to that child. Everything from home struggles to eating disorders and bullying can come out of these carefully crafted conversations.
Whether the issue is big or small, if it is enough to trouble the eyes of a child, it is enough for me to express that I care — even if they're just tired.
3. Model Unconditional Love With Honest Accountability
Everyone needs unconditional love. Many years ago, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't walk into my classroom unless I could honestly say that I loved every single child. Twice in 16 years, I had to go to the teacher's bathroom for a moment of prayer and attitude adjustment before I could walk in the room and keep this promise.
Unconditional love is like a commitment to workout. It's easy to start off doing it, but when you get tired and life comes at you in full force, maintaining the practice can get harder.
But along with unconditional love, children also need honest accountability. When a child is caught cheating, I have to handle it according to National Honor Society rules. Even so, I express to them that I care but have to hold them accountable.
If someone treats another child with disrespect, I also have to handle the situation. However, I still love the child.
This is a balance, but you can have both. Love helps us relate. Accountability helps us learn.
4. Be Someone That Kids Trust and Admire
As the old adage goes,
More is caught than taught.
How we act is important. What we do when hard times come is critical. How we treat people when we disagree is vital. Students want to respect their teachers, but this generation seems particularly unforgiving when teachers act in ways that aren't respectable or, even worse, when they disrespect their students.
Teachers have a higher standard of living, not in terms of paycheck, but in terms of our behavior, and we must strive to live up to it in the eyes of our students.
5. Be Honest About Your Own Struggles and Life Story
I understand what it's like to be lonely. I was “that kid.” The one not invited to parties. The one people picked on and made fun of relentlessly. The kid who ran for every office and no one would elect (until I got to high school).
I share this story with my students, but the story doesn't end there. They particularly love how God transformed “Icky Vicki” into a beauty queen. How I ended up winning every election but one after the beginning of ninth grade and leading some very large campus organizations as a college student at Georgia Tech.
They love to hear that, although kids taunted me and said that no one would ever love me, my husband and I have been madly in love for 25 years and I still consider him my boyfriend.
And that the kid who everyone said had “no common sense” has been blessed with lots of people reading and listening to her work every day.
The mean taunts of children don't have to become your future – or anyone's future. Our past may shape us, but it doesn't have to define us. We can be more. We can do more. And we can always rise above.
As I share my personal story, it gives kids hope but it also shows them that I'm not perfect, which is something that I believe kids need to understand about adults.
The first three years of teaching were so hard for me. But I think it was because I tried to compartmentalize my life. I never let any of my personal interests, life story, or quirky humor stick out from under my business suit and silky scarves.
But once I brought myself into my classroom, I developed real relationships with the kids, and strategies number 1-4 in this article became possible.
You have to relate before you educate.
You have to relate if you want to innovate.
And we must relate if we want to have any hope of causing the violence to dissipate.
I'm fighting school violence by loving one child at a time in meaningful ways that make a difference as I teach them. I'm not perfect nor will I ever reach all of these children, but I'm enough of an idealist and student-fan to give everything I have and keep trying.
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