It has taken me forever to feel it is appropriate to comment on the shooting at Inskip. I just couldn’t comment until the victims were stable and the school was moving forward in their healing process. The screaming about the size of the staff in the AJ building, metal detectors in every doorway or not hiring anyone with a history of mental illness was tempting to address, but in the beginning, all focus needed to be on the victims. The no explanation version of my opinion is that while everyone did what they were legally required to do, it is now time to do better. How can we do better?
Let’s start with our responsibility to report anyone we think is a serious danger to others. Alerting authorities with concerns is all that we have to do. If we do it anonymously, huge amounts of time are wasted trying to verify the validity of the complaints. Disgruntled students and parents have been known to make groundless complaints about teachers. While all concerns have to be taken seriously, they also have to be properly investigated so that teachers are not wrongfully accused. When a person in our neighborhood robbed a bank, we called the FBI. The criminal was armed and dangerous and knew exactly who we were, but the risk of that person committing another crime was great enough to warrant our publicly identifying him. We need to be helpful and not a hindrance to an investigation.
Let’s talk about teacher education programs. I write these words as someone who graduated college before the full year of internship that would have completed my education degree. I was extremely pregnant and knew I needed to spend that year focused on my new baby. I personally knew a dozen people who graduated with teaching degrees. Less than three years later, TWO of those people were still teaching. I believe that those college professors knew some of those students were not going to be teachers. Education programs that knowingly allow students to spend years studying in education when they would be better served in an MBA program are doing students a disservice. Education programs that can’t say a reasonable percentage of their graduates continue to get their Master’s degree within a certain number of years instead of losing their graduates to other careers are doing future employers a disservice. Education programs that fail to encourage medical help for students who clearly have mental health problems are doing children a disservice. Teacher education programs need to watch for signs of predatory teachers who will date their students (yes, that IS a euphemism), bully children and threaten peers. Mandatory counseling sessions may just need to be a requirement in teacher education programs.
Any laws that restrict checking of references or prevent references from being completely honest with concerns need to be reconsidered. There must be a better way to protect the innocently accused while also protecting our most vulnerable populations.
School systems need to think about their part in tragedies like this. Are we taking good care of the teachers who are responsible for classrooms full of children all day? Do we ask them to do the impossible and provide inadequate support services? Is it really a good idea to inform someone they won’t have a job next year while they are still on the job? Are school administrators given the power to terminate contracts mid-year when they know things are going poorly? Do we encourage teachers to take care of their physical and mental health or make it difficult for them to do so?
Ultimately, responsibility falls completely upon the person who made the horrible decision to hurt others. Blaming anyone else will not change that which has already happened. If we fail to learn and grow from this, then it becomes our failure.