Uvalde Q & A: What Parents Want and Need to Know About Guns and Schools as Gun-Free Zones
Welcome to the Wise Instruction Blog! I’m Lora. Or Ms. Rooks, as my students call me. Or Laoshi Lao Li as my other students call me. Or Ms. Hacienda, Ice, Crash, Water Princess…and many other affectionate nicknames that mean nothing to you, but loving connection to me and my students. I have served over 5,000 of them at last count.
I am assuming some of you don’t know who I am. Since this topic has the potential to be particularly viral, you deserve to know what qualifies me to comment.
So, allow me to introduce myself in brief. I am a 22-year career educator that has taught kindergarten to Ph.D. students in the United States and East Asia. I have a Master’s Degree in Second Language Acquisition and have taught nearly every other subject taught in a typical elementary school classroom. My speciality is Writing, because as I told my middle school students: `’A pen is a sword.” Rather ironic for this title, ain’t it?
I would like to preface my comments with a little more of my family background: my Father was a school psychologist and high school dropout interventionist in the largest inner-city school district in Phoenix, Arizona. My Mother also worked in schools in the office of the Superintendent. Later, she ran a successful home daycare and preschool for over thirty years. She taught scores of little ones school readiness, emotional, and social skills before any of that was in vogue. Most of my family has a background in communications and mental healthcare. Collectively, we have processed the realities of humanity at high capacity. May this add some earned credibility to my comments.
You can also read more in the About Me section of my website: www.wiseinstruction.com. I would love to serve you there. Thanks!
Originally I had some ideas about this blog about the Uvalde, Texas Robb Elementary School tragedy:
Craft my own thoughts about the matter.
I decided instead to turn this into Question/Answer format, so readers could provide input on what matters on the guns and schools issue–from their perspective.
2. Make it into a series of posts.
I nixed this, as taking information out of context is the fastest way to misrepresent someone. Although this post is lengthy, it is comprehensive and from my heart.
I hope you will pass on this post to your friends and family who are concerned about school safety or who are considering homeschooling as a result of our current societal realities. Hopefully, doing so will save life and reduce the traumas plaguing us. For the Q and A, read on…
Have seen a positive or negative effect from lockdown drills in students? My son would have trouble sleeping for a few days whenever there was a drill. It’s a tremendous burden to bear for young kids but the likelihood of this (shooting) happening is much more likely than a fire drill.
The main difference I have noticed in students about lockdown drills compared to other types of drills is many more questions.
A fire drill is rather cut and dry; get out of the building, stand in a line with your teacher, and wait for the “all clear” announcement. However, with lock down drills, students have actually received conflicting information about how to handle such an event. Do we turn the lights on or off? Lock ourselves in or run to escape? Stay quiet or call for help? I would ask your local law enforcement the suggested protocol and then take that to your school administration. Why we would have to consider this as civilians is beyond me, but it is what it is…
Shooters move more erratically and with premeditation, versus a natural disaster which acts in more predictable ways as to when it will end.
Young children don’t often understand what is going on during drills. Older students, especially my middle schoolers, feel obliged to protect themselves, their peers, and even teachers and other adults. I especially see the boys thinking out loud defensively or offensively about how to handle an intruder. They even debate about it among themselves.
This is where the pain point is: who is going to protect us? How can we protect ourselves?
How can we (adults) be prepared without placing such a burden on kids? (As you know this particular tragedy happened an hour from us and was a fourth grade class-my older son’s age.)
The burden is on kids. It is! Let that sink in, please.
It is also on teachers, but many kids feel the need to protect as well. Fear happens when people feel helpless - kids and adults both. In our current culture, it is commonly known that it may take first responders up to 15 minutes to respond to an emergency; their resources are stretched beyond capacity in many locations.
More about how to address this sad reality later in this post…
Parents need to have a plan with their children about how to connect if an emergency arises. This is problematic because most classrooms do not permit students to have their phone on their person, and younger students often do not have phones. However, planning a spot near campus (or two) to meet up after the school releases them would give some students a bit of comfort. The unknown also scares children.
Have a proactive approach with your child’s teachers. If you children are particularly afraid of a lockdown, please let their teachers know that way before they are practiced. Find out how often the school conducts types of drills. Most drills are by design unscheduled, but sometimes there is a bit of notice. They probably cannot tell you the exact day or time, but they can give you a heads up about the frequency of these practices. It would be a good idea to know about the schedule so you can debrief with your child afterwards.
Teachers have been trained to handle students during drills, but that does not mean they would not appreciate support in an actual emergency. If I had a room parent I could call in an actual emergency that would be welcomed. This room parent could activate a phone tree for my classroom removing much pressure off of me in a time of crisis. Your child’s teacher may have their own children in another classroom or campus that they will feel worried about. You could offer to scout for them if needed, so that they can better concentrate on their students (which they will do anyway). It is a nice way to show compassion.
Some days I want to keep my children innocent of such a tragedy and hide the news from them but it’s hard when it’s so close to home and can read.
It is really important to openly dialogue with your child about the tragic realities of life, but in an age-appropriate way. Remember your child will be more afraid when they are more confused. Keeping your child ignorant in the name of protecting their innocence is not really an option at this point. I wish it were. I long for the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood days. Perhaps one day they will return…
Here is an example of how I would talk about a lockdown situation with different ages:
Pre-K to 2nd Grade: “Your teacher has a plan to keep you safe if something dangerous happens at school. You will be (or have been) practicing it.
Tell me about what you do when you need to stay in the classroom quietly: where do you sit? What can you do while you wait? What can you not do? Why? After the emergency is over, Mom and Dad will check on you. God is always there even if it takes us some time to find you. What do you think about this? What are your feelings about it? Let’s pray together about them now.”
3-6th Grade: “Your teacher has a plan to keep you safe if something dangerous happens at school. You will be (or have been) practicing it.
Tell me about the steps and the rules? Why do you think there are rules and drills?
What do you friends think about the drills? Do you sit near them? Why or why not? What would help you feel more comfortable (or at least pleasantly distracted) during a drill?
After the emergency is over, what do you think would work best for Mom and Dad to locate you? Where would you like to meet if we can’t get into the school? God is always there even if it takes us some time to find you. Is there anything we should tell or ask your teacher about drills? Let’s pray together now.”
7th Grade +: “Your school has a plan to keep you safe if something dangerous happens at school. You will be (or have been) practicing it.
Tell me about the steps and the rules… Why do you think there are rules and drills? What do you friends think about the drills? Do you sit near them during the drill? Why or why not? What would help you feel more comfortable (or at least pleasantly distracted) during a drill?
After the emergency is over, what do you think would work best for Mom and Dad to locate you? We would (not) like you to call/drive/meet us here: _____. Do you think that would work well, or should we set up a Plan B?
What are your concerns about these drills, and what do you think would be possible solutions? Have your classmates discussed escape routes or ways to defend yourself (especially if the teacher is not present or injured)?
Remember, God is always there even if it takes us some time to find you. Is there anything we should tell or ask your teacher about drills? Let’s pray together now.”
What more could the parents be doing on both sides of tragedies like this?
This question is worded in an interesting way, as the answers, in my view, are nearly identical. By “both sides,” I am guessing the reader is asking about students who are troubled (and this more likely to become violent) and those children that would be the victims.
The short answer to both: parent. It is a verb.
I can appreciate that parenting is an exhausting effort. I was essentially raised in a single parent home for some time, so I can empathize. I don’t mean to be trite, or that you aren’t already doing your best as a parent. I hope my insights as an educator will encourage and give you a fresh look at your situation.
Some parents mistakenly pour effort, time, and expense into less-than priorities. What we emphasize to our children makes a huge difference in their understanding of the world and ability to thrive.
Being intentional as a parent is less about gadgets, stylishness, and keeping up with the Joneses and more about presence; transmitting values to the next generation.
Not knocking sports at all with this analogy, simply making a point: what does it say to a child when a parent comes to their soccer game, but does not come to the parent teacher conference, or worse: does not know the teachers’ names?
What good is it to take your child to an expensive and fun activity if you do not know who their friends are, and what goes on in their homes and lives of their peers?
You might have high expectations for your child’s report card, but do you know what is burdening their heart each night that they cry themselves to sleep?
Does your son and daughter spend more time with you over a meal or reading a book, with relatives, other adult mentors, and at church– or playing Call of Duty? I am not saying no to video games entirely. I am saying no to emotional disengagement.
True, some children, especially teens, are going to resist a parents’ attempt to be closer. That does not mean you should not consistently extend it. When they are ready to talk, they will –but only if they feel welcomed, cherished, and desired. In the words of my Pastor, be “consistently consistent.” If you begin these rituals at a young age, an adolescent is less likely to resist them.
Conversely, children who are boundaryless will jump off an emotional cliff into a moral freefall.
So what is a concerned adult citizen to do beyond the borders of their own families?
Enter: The Re-Parent.
There are many emotionally homeless children in our society.
I am not talking about orphans or foster care only, although that is a whole other blog. I am talking about young people (especially adolescents) who don’t have a healthy connection with a stable adult. This happened frequently in my middle school classroom in a well-off neighborhood. The students had nearly anything they wanted materially–but they did not have their parents’ hearts and attention.
I cannot tell you where I would have been without mentors, pastors, and extended family in my life. Though they were not directly responsible for me, they played a huge role in my moral and social development. I went to them when I needed added reassurance and support.
Many kids in your child’s classroom do not have a safe place to go when school gets out. You and your children can be that friendly face down the street or at the bus stop. TWill this help to prevent the next troubled teen? Maybe. Small kindnesses go a long way. Children are ALWAYS listening to us and seeking a place to belong.
Tossing a football, sharing a snack, an invitation to a party, a ride to campus or youth group and friendly, genuinely interested conversations: these community efforts add up over time in the life of a traumatized youngster. I remember one of my own relatives single-handedly prevented a campus attack as the only friend of the young man who had drafted a “hit list.” Intervention happened just in time.
Your child does not need to feel the entire weight of protecting themselves against classmates who are dangerous, but you can train them to be kind and not add to the angst of the other student. They may not want a kid to come to their birthday party, and that may not be wise in some ways. But If they can merely smile and say hello to the unincluded students in the hallway, it could go a very long way to preventing a disaster. Human care is in short supply everywhere.
By the way, I had an experience with a middle school boy, 6-foot tall, who I restrained after he sucker punched another innocent classmate and kneed him in the groin. The aggressor ended up in a mental health facility, I am told. Your kid doesn't need to engage another child who is mean or unsafe. But as the parent, YOU need to know the names of kids on campus who are displaying warning signs of violence. Train your child to know what these are, and allow them emotional safety to share with you on the regular anything they are worried about.
Adolescents may not want you to make a big deal out of a peer, but it is better for you to know the atmosphere is tense than to be ignorant. Use discretion when communicating with the school about what your child tells you, but follow your gut instincts as a parent. In some cases, going straight to law enforcement allows you and your family to provide anonymous tips which could prevent a problem. Your child’s teacher can’t be everywhere at once, but you can talk to your child daily and find out if something is amiss.
How do you feel about teachers having guns and training to defend? Thoughts on why the sudden expectation of teachers is to be soldiers.
There was a time in my life that I was very wary of guns, as a female around small children. I felt this way for much of my growing up years and well into adulthood. Certainly, guns are controversial for a reason. Considerable arguments can be made on either side of this debate.
I did not go into education to participate in gun training or handling. That is not something I ever envisioned for myself. The reality of education is that there are MANY things that teacher college does not train or prepare you to do. The brass-tacks setting of a classroom, especially in a public school, is an emotional and mental jungle. Ask your teacher friend if they know what a “hold” is, and I will bet you $100 they have been or will be trained to perform these soon.
I suppose other industries feel the same way. Pilots, shopkeepers, and hospital staff do not expressly expect to deal with on-sight violence in their chosen profession. We are all projecting our ideals for a new career onto an unknown day-to-day grind.