Hats off to young teachers – Some thoughts on the Florida high school shooting of February 17, 2018

Always bear in mind we in Canada are NOT immune.

As I am bombarded with the news and programming about the 2018 dreadful massacre of 17 people in a Florida high schoolI I am forced to realize this was not an occurrence particular to the USA alone. Canada shares so much with the USA,including school shootings. Canadian school shootings include LaLoche (2016) Saskatchewan, La Racine de vie Montessori (2013) Gatineau, University of Alberta (2012) Edmonton, C.W. Jeffries (2007) Toronto, Dawson College (2006) Montreal, Brampton Secondary (2004) Brampton, W.R. Myers High School (1999) Tabernacle, Albert, Concordia University (1992) Montreal, Ecole Polytechnique (1989) Montreal, Sturgeon Creek School (1978) Winnipeg, and Saint Pius X (1975) Ottawa, to name some well-known ones. And young teachers are smack dab in the middle of this quagmire from the get go!

The media coverage of this tragedy strangely draws me back to thoughts of quite different challenges in my own career as an Ontario elementary school teacher, now 20 full years behind me.

I recall entering an Ontario Teachers’ College in the mid 1960’s,because my parents felt it a waste to send a girl to University because she was only going to marry and become a mother and homemaker for life. As well, at the time, student loans were not available for students whose parents earned above a certain threshold, regardless of one’s goals, grades or parents’ lack of willingness to pay. For the most part girls pursued one of three choices: nursing, secretarial work or teaching.

And so, when I heard teacher training was free, local and guaranteed a job at the end, knew I loved children and hoped to have a pile of them myself, and because I had loved school, learning almost anything and had a bent for academics, I signed up for the wild ride as a teacher for 31 years.

My first job, as a very naive 19-year-old, was split between a grade eight class and itinerant music position in a small school in an outlying suburb. It quickly helped me understand the words of the Classroom Management instructor at the Ottawa Teachers College who said to his budding future educators, ”If you survive until Christmas, you may have the makings of a teacher!”

The class had 24 students, 20 boys and 4 girls, which was very small in those days when class size was commonly 35 or more. Some were from the middle class suburb and others bused in from the neighbouring farms and cottage areas. I remember Lucien, a 16 year old in my class, with very weak academic skills riding into the school on his motorcycle and Helen, the 15 year old farm girl who asked me in class if it was alright to sleep with her boyfriend. I recall Tim whose terrible behaviour was talking during lessons and playing cards across the aisle with another student! And I recall Martha, a skinny 12 year old, very talented and gifted girl, dressed in a green jumpsuit, playing a Martian in a class play we produced for the Christmas concert!

What a mix, what a range, and what a crazy assignment for the ill prepared, 19-year-old academic! Every minute,of every day,dealing with the problems of that class, convinced me, that despite having excelled in the Teachers College program, despite loving children, and despite loving learning, I could never spend my life in this field.

I began immediately to take courses at the local university, at a feverish pace to get myself in a position where I could leave teaching and support myself in an alternate career. However, my life plan saw me continue teaching for 31 years, and thank God, I enjoyed most of them, having worked with and for some amazing dedicated professionals, and having taught some of the most wonderful children in the world.

Teaching had some incredible challenges during my career, but when I read about the violence possible in the schools today and some proposed American solutions like school entry metal detectors, armed security guards, safety drills for students in case of shooters, and arming teachers with guns to protect their students, I cringe. I stand in awe at the young men and women who decide to train in this profession today, with no guarantee of a job at the end, poor pay for many years, much criticism and disrespect from kids and their parents, and now the responsibility of saving the lives of their charges and even risking their own!

My hat is off to you young teachers! You are worthy of our unending respect, admiration and gratitude. If you survive in the teaching profession today, you deserve a medal and citation from the parents and leaders of our country. Not only are you now responsible for the development of our children’s minds, social values and behaviour but also for their very survival, up against unknown enemies who may be sitting in your own classes, somewhere else in the school or somewhere else in the community.

I thought teaching was a tough enough job in my time but the job today is unbelievable. My thoughts and prayers are indeed with each and every young person in the profession today. You have my total respect, support and appreciation! May improvements in gun control, mental health services, police and security guard training and service delivery, discipline in our homes and schools, reduction of the portrayal of violence in our movies, on our televisions, and in our electronic games, and a change to our gun culture in North America happen sooner than later. This may allow teachers to get back to the tasks they were supposed to have-stimulating young minds with excitement about learning about their world and developing their talents and potential.