These past few days our social media feeds have been filled with messages of thoughts and prayers for the victims of yet another school shooting. And there are just as many posts that reject what may seem like Pollyanna, feel-good greetings:
I understand both perspectives. I want to “LIKE” the thoughts and prayers posts and the posts that say prayers are not enough.
I send my thoughts and prayers to all the families who have lost loved ones because I believe in prayer. My heart goes out to the parents who have lost their beloved children, bursting with potential; for the teachers, inspired to share a passion for life-long learning; for the students who survived, the students who saw their friends die, and the students who will have nightmares for weeks, months and years to come from this trauma.
I believe in the power of prayer to change the person praying and to affect the situation being prayed for. When I pray, I am sending my heartfelt condolences and positive energy to a specific person and/or for a situation. And I know it works—I’ve felt it myself when others have prayed for me. I can only hope it makes a difference when I pray for others.
But I believe that giving only lip-service to prayer can be a cop-out, a way for some to avoid the responsibility of facing real issues. “Thoughts and prayers” can sound hollow without action, effort, or work towards change.
Prayer must be accompanied with authentic listening and selfless action. St. Benedict refers to this as “ora et labora” or prayer and work. This Benedictine motto has application beyond the monastery.
God empowers us and encourages us to put our prayers to work. Prayer alone is sentimental; work alone lacks heart and soul. It is not either prayer or work, but both prayer and work that can make an impact on those we love and for situations that need healing. We need both prayer and work.
This either/or thinking is what has brought our country to be divided on more issues than I can name here (besides, it just exhausts me.) There is not one single reason that America has found itself the leader in gun murders; there are many.
A teacher colleague, Alan Holdorf, wrote, “We have a gun problem. Or we have a mental health problem. Or a discipline problem with our children. Can we have all of the problems? Then again, how silly would that be to have a multi-faceted problem that can’t be tackled by a single hot-button issue.”
Of course, America’s problems are multi-layered. There is something Americans are doing differently than other countries. There is something we are doing wrong. It is undeniable, but there isn’t one simple solution to our complex problems. The solution is not one thing or another, it is a both/and situation. There are layers of possibilities for addressing what ails our country, but for God’s sake let’s do something.
This crisis of gun violence in America is an opportunity to be open-minded listeners and to be leaders sans political agenda; to be compassionate and to detach from our own opinions long enough to realize that we all want the same thing—for our children to be safe in their learning environment.
It’s being humble enough as people, as a country, to say that we aren’t getting it right yet. We aren’t great and we never were. We have a long way to go to make all of America feel safe, let alone great.
But America and my classroom are two different things.
My heart belongs to the classroom. I look out my window at the flag flying half-staff, and I am reminded how much I love my students and want them to succeed. I want them to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student comes from an environment that doesn’t encourage or support that.
Students have so many more issues than they did when I started my career in education 21 years ago—there are more broken homes, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty, personal and family trauma. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the heart, soul, and mind of my student.
But this does not require me to carry a gun—that’s too easy. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind. Instead, some policy decisions need to be made to prevent school violence. Some decisions need to be made to give teachers the tools they need to connect with and help our most vulnerable students. I will continue to PRAY and WORK towards this goal.
“I’m a teacher and you want to arm me? Then arm me with a school psychologist who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing. Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, and have meaningful discussions with students about their future. Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to students and their family’s needs. Arm me with enough school nurses so that they are accessible to every child. Arm me with more days on the calendar for teaching and learning and fewer days for standardized testing. Arm me with smaller class sizes that allow my colleagues and I to get to know our students and their families better. Arm me with community schools that are hubs of educational, cultural, health and civic partnerships, improving the entire community. Until you arm me to the hilt with what it takes to meet the needs of our school and students, I respectfully request you keep your guns out of my school.” Source: UTLA, video below.