- Students: The Original American Revolutionaries - February 21, 2018
- The Case of the Shrinking Education Department - November 12, 2017
- We Must Teach the Worst of our History; Not Glorify It - August 14, 2017
- Transgender Student Rights are Human Rights - February 23, 2017
- Why "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" Still Matters in 2017 - January 16, 2017
- No Right to an Education: Detroit Schools and the Secretary of Education Nominee - November 29, 2016
- I Think I Failed You - A Civics Teacher's Letter to her Former Students - November 16, 2016
- Transforming the 'Trump Effect' in Schools - October 27, 2016
- Implicit Bias: The Missed Post-Debate Discussion - October 4, 2016
- 15 Years after 9/11: Days of Infamy & Memory as History - September 12, 2016
We end this week mourning the violent deaths of two teachers at the hands of their students. The two incidents occurred in different states and involved different weapons. But both incidents were horribly sudden, violent and currently, without known motive. Friday should be the day we review the triumphs and the celebrations of the week that has concluded. But this Friday, we honor the lives of two teachers who dedicated themselves to their students, and whose loss the entire education community feels deeply.
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]
On Tuesday morning, Michael Landsberry, an eighth-grade math teacher at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada, attempted to intervene and de-escalate an incident with a student who had a weapon outside the school. The former Nevada Air National Guardsman, who had survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was fatally shot by the student. The boy also shot two other students (but did not kill them) and then turned the gun on himself. Mr. Landsberry was known for creating a classroom of mutual respect and admiration and was beloved in his school and community. How the student got the automatic weapon he used, why he brought it to school, or what provoked the attack, are all facts we may or may not learn in the future. What we do know is that, once again, a teacher was killed trying to keep his students safe.
[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]
Then, the very next day, the body of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer was found in a wooded area outside of her school. She had allegedly been stabbed with a box cutter by a 14-year old student with whom she’d met after school to help with preparation for a test. The boy is currently under arrest for the murder of his teacher. Ms. Ritzer was only 24, but had already won the hearts of students by reaching beyond her classroom, using her Twitter account to allow her students a way to stay in touch with her and ask questions. She also tweeted out jokes and messages of encouragement before Algebra tests. Why the boy bought a box cutter and brought it to school, what provoked the attack on his teacher, and why he carried out this brutal murder the way he did are all facts we may or may not learn in the future. What we do know is that, once again, a teacher was killed trying to help her students.
CNN reports that a national survey of 10,600 teachers taken after the school shooting in Newtown, CT, revealed that almost a third of teachers felt that their school wasn't safe from gun violence. Teachers must now regularly train their students and participate in lock-down and lock-out drills so that students are as prepared to respond to a threat of violence as they are prepared to respond to a fire alarm. In surveys of workplace violence in U.S. schools, and according to a map created by USA Today, at least 17 teachers, principals and other staff members have been killed by students since 1995. That number doesn’t include the numerous amounts of students killed, or killers who were not students themselves. The numbers can grow exponentially depending on what we count. Overall, statistics will tell us that schools are still safe places to work and spend the day.
But statistics are not what tell this story. Teachers and students tell this story. Teachers are already exhausted and beleaguered by a system that is quick to judge them and slow to provide them safety, security, necessary training, not to mention any kind of reward for their hard work and accomplishments. We hear almost daily how we need better metrics for evaluating teachers because we must “get rid of bad teachers.” Sure, that is an important issue. But how often do we hear about metrics we can use to provide incentives and rewards to teachers like the two we lost this week? Do we have regular reports on how teachers get recognition, support and reward for their daily, relentless perseverance in giving everything they can to their students’ success? Of course not -- teachers shouldn’t expect reward for just doing their job, right? Well, considering that teachers now face the danger of being killed while doing their jobs, perhaps it’s time we focus a little more on how to support our educators in real and authentic ways.
Providing regular counseling, truly meaningful professional development, team support, and recognition are just small ways we can begin to change the culture of schools to give teachers a new sense that what they do is valued. We educators know how hard each and every day can be, even amidst the joy and passion we have for teaching. Unlike many other professions, educators are relentlessly pulled between obligations to their clients (students), their bosses (administration), their community (parents and district residents), and the public at large, who may have nothing to do with their specific school but still demand “accountability.” Add the growing danger that comes with a culture of violence, and educators can become very convenient targets. Teachers carry significant professional weight that most other career fields never have to deal with.
I really hope that both Mr. Landsberry and Ms. Ritzer heard often how awesome they were. I hope they received in life the kudos that are pouring in now that they’ve died. I suspect they struggled, like most teachers, to find new sources of energy and optimism each day. I suspect they loved their jobs, their students, and their subject area. I suspect they were unrecognized experts in their field, as most teachers are. Their horrible deaths weigh on us all, and we mourn their loss and the terrible grief their family, friends, colleagues and students must now face. As a society, we must find ways to end this violence that has permeated our children’s lives. As fellow educators, we must find time each day to encourage each other, recognize each other’s gifts, learn from each other’s expertise, and lead the way to create a new professional environment for ourselves. We owe it to the teachers we have lost in the line of duty to be the best we can continue to be. And we owe it to ourselves to insist that we be able to build and work in a profession that allows us to do just that.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]