Thoughts on working at a school the day after a school shooting

I was meeting with my boss, the campus president. Routine stuff, and some joking around.

An instructor threw open the door and came into the office. He had a look of urgency as he said: “There is an extremely emotionally distraught student downstairs. And he’s talking about hurting someone.”

Instinctually, we both jumped out of our chairs and ran downstairs. The student wasn’t there. Other students in the classroom looked confused and had expressions ranging from worried to fearful. Within 2 minutes, we located the student. He was crying, almost hyperventilating. His fists were clenched, his face red, his eyes narrowed. He could barely talk, but when he did there was hatred and intense anger. This student, who normally was a jolly class clown, who always respectfully said hello to me with a chuckle, was indeed emotionally distraught.

But luckily and thankfully not violent.

When we pulled him into the office, and after he had calmed down a bit, he told his story. He was experiencing a deeply intense personal situation involving his family, and after talking more, found out it brought out deep emotions from his own childhood. We talked with him, encouraged him, gave him some resources, and he left the office feeling better, and certainly less distraught.

It wasn’t until a few minutes after that I realized what my response was, how quickly I ran into what could have been a horribly ugly situation. Especially while I was reeling from a school shooting 10 miles east of here the day before, which left 2 students dead and a teacher injured. Why did I react so quickly and run toward the problem instead of locking the office and hiding under my desk?

Earlier that day, another student came into my office, almost equally distraught. She was on the verge of tears, but was trying to be strong. She was extremely frustrated. In all her classes, but especially her math class, she had perfect attendance, and she did all of her assignments on schedule, but was still failing the class. She told me that when a test was placed in front of her, her mind went blank. Despite hours of preparation, all of the formulas, mnemonic devices, and steps she had studied disappeared. She was frustrated and ready to give up.

I smiled as I encouraged her. I told her that “test anxiety” was very common among college students and she wasn’t alone. We talked about confidence, communication, and preparation. I shared with her some relaxation techniques. I reminded her of on-campus resources, and gave her some things to read about test anxiety. “Wow,” she said, “I had no idea…I thought there was something wrong with me.” She left with more confidence and a smile on her face.

I love spending my time at work like that. It’s the reason I do what I do.

I HATE that today I have to spend time planning what we call “Active Shooter Training”.

I HATE that I am responsible to dream up a contingency plan for gun violence.

I HATE that I will have to pull faculty and staff away from educating students for over an hour so that they can prepare for what to do if we have an Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, or Adam Lanza on campus.

(I HATE that I know those names off the top of my head.)

I HATE that we have to distract students from learning with a “lockdown drill” and later another “evacuation drill”.

I HATE that I have to train school personnel, who likely have no prior combat or tactical training how, in the worst case scenario, to take on a gunman face to face with their bare hands (or hopefully a book, chair, or computer monitor).

I would much rather spend that time training school personnel how to more effectively engage students, more effectively teach them lifelong literacy skills, or help students with test anxiety.

I am proud and very respectful of the heroes who have taken a bullet for students, or saved students from being in harms way. (I HATE that I don’t know those names off the top of my head.) Those teachers saved your sons and daughters, but they have sons and daughters too, so I’m not satisfied at all with that outcome.

So, while you debate guns, discuss mental illness, place blame on psychotropic drugs, misogyny, video games, a lack of empathy, and all the rest, I’ll plan how to train teachers to take a bullet for your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

While you post pithy internet memes and link to heartwarming stories about heroes and scary news accounts of other shootings or the frequency of school shootings, I’ll walk around campus to identify physical security risks determining primary and secondary emergency escape plans.

Instead of thinking about how to inspire better, more effective, and more spellbinding learning, I’ll spend time preparing for a statistically unlikely event.

I saw that distraught student this morning, down the hall as I came in. He gave me a nod and a wave and a HUGE grin. He’s feeling better.

If only I could exhale a huge sigh of relief.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on working at a school the day after a school shooting

  1. Hey Kirby, great article. I completely agree with what you said here. Very thoughtful. It is and continues to be a pleasure to with with you everyday. 🙂

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