Although as a teacher I am painfully aware that school violence is prevalent across America, I still felt safe in my early years of teaching. That feeling has all but disappeared for me, and I do not teach in a violence-ridden, gang-infested, inner-city school where teachers receive “combat” pay under some other less offensive sounding title like urban renewal stipend.. I teach in a rural farming community far removed from any major city.
The first time I realized how suddenly a dangerous situation could happen was long before the numerous mass school killings had made headlines. At lunch one day a couple of my students stayed behind to tell me a classmate had a loaded pistol in his locker, which he had planned to take to a rival school basketball game to get justice for an intentional foul by the rival team’s star player at a previous game. Of course I immediately went to office to report the information, and I was informed that the boy’s dad had just come in, picked up the boy, and checked him out of the school to transfer to the next county. Apparently, the boy’s high school brother had found out, crossed the street to the junior high, taken the gun home, and called his dad. Luckily, nothing happened, but it took me from a naive beginning teacher to a much more skeptical one overnight. This was not a “problem” child in class. He did his work, behaved fairly well, and was accepted by his peers.
One of my best students my first year of teaching picked up a gun two summers later, put it to his heard, and pulled the trigger. No signs, no symptoms, no life-changing tragedy seemed to have triggered it. He was popular, well-behaved, intelligent, and came from a wonderful, loving home of parents who adored him, a little brother who idolized him, and grandparents that visited all the time. My husband and I married when this young man was in my class, and I remember telling him that if we ever have a son I hope he turns out like this boy. Who knew?
Our town also has an increasing drug problem as I believe every corner of America does now. Of course we now have gangs from the nearby larger community that have begun to recruit a few local teens, mostly to sell the drugs. I saw where two brothers I taught were recently involved in a drive-by in a nearby community. Again, they were not kids I had trouble with in class. Sure they were not my most studious pupils, but they were respectful and their mother always seemed to be involved and concerned about their schooling.
One of the quietest boys I ever taught was in my homeroom, and one morning I was helping him with his math homework. The boy seated in front of him was being his usual obnoxious self by making noises and just clowning around. Before I could do anything to stop it, the quiet boy had taken his pencil and jabbed it into the other boy’s head three times before I could intervene. I will never forget the transformation, especially the look on his face. He went from a very sweet, harmless student to an outraged monster firmly gripping a bloodied pencil as a weapon.
I could continue to tell of many more acts of violence that have happened during my teaching career, but what I have come to know is that any child could be capable of violence or could suddenly become a victim of violence no matter what socio-economic background, family life, grades, or behavior record. I say my prayers every day that my students, my coworkers and I will not be the next violence victims.