Saturday, December 21, 2013

To My "Other" Kids

The following was a letter written to his students earlier this week (on the day students were allowed back into school) by Brad Meyer, a Social Studies teacher and soccer coach at my school, and a friend. With his permission, I share it with you.



To my “other” kids,

Since I’m not sure how today is going to go and because I’m not sure if I’ll get to see all of you, I decided I would write you all a letter. Throughout my life, when I need to deal with something, I write. Sometimes I share, but usually just writing helps me process whatever it is I need to process. I’m not worrying much about mechanics (I know you’ll be noticing my mistakes!). I just want to share some of my thoughts.

First, and probably most importantly, I need to thank those of you in 5th hour. Like I am hearing from every other teacher about their kids, you were rock stars as soon as the first shot was heard. I know we have drilled before, but it isn’t the same. You did everything exactly as you should have making it far easier to emotionally get control and help us wait for safety. I believe that by the second shot, you were already moving to the corner. We all reacted on instinct because we had been trained to do so and not a word needed to be shared, just a look of “this is real.” Ok…many of us texted. I was right there with you and was unable to wait to hear from my daughter. It helped me to get the information from M**** from outside our room as it helped me be sure that things really had ended after only a few minutes (80 seconds as we now know.) Like some of you, I wasn’t hearing back from the person I needed to hear from. I didn’t for almost two hours. Internally, I was a mess worrying about my daughter who was less than 20 yards from me in an English class. Because I believed that the first shots had happened in the North hall right behind our wall (which we now know wasn’t the case), I knew she was near them too.

You gave me something to focus on … you. I got overly rational with you, sharing statistics that are all true; I wasn’t just making them up to make you feel better. The key one was that we know in most cases, things are over in 2 minutes and then we just wait. I shared that to help you, but also to help me control that parental anxiety when you know your kid is in danger. I had another anxiety in the room beyond the obvious ones of regarding our safety. I am a bit OCD with certain things. I will go back and check to make sure I closed the garage door often when I leave home. I was having those same thoughts wanting to check the lock on the door. Recently, a new custodian had been leaving our door unlocked in the morning and I had gotten in the habit of checking to make sure it was locked when I got to class on MWF especially. After I pulled the magnetic strip, I think I checked the handle to make sure it was indeed locked. But it all happened so quickly, I really wasn’t sure. But because of where I truly felt the shots had happened, I debated whether I should check or not. Obviously, it was locked just like my garage door has been shut EVERY single time I’ve checked.

Your composure in the midst of your fears was so helpful and reassuring. I knew you were getting texts - some from worried parents that those of you with phones were able to help instantly. But others were getting info from peers around the building. I heard fairly early from one of you who we thought the culprit was. More importantly, I heard the name Claire…no last name for quite some time. I knew that the singers hadn’t yet gotten west of the cafeteria. They normally would have been. Parm operates like clockwork and I knew to plan for their arrival in the hall at a certain time based on the prior years when we were testing during their performance. I knew that they should have been much further west than they were with all of the kids following to listen. Even though, you were worried about them since NONE of them would have their phone on them during their performance, I KNEW they were in a safe part of the building since we could hear all of the yells about the library. That is just one of the lucky things that helped make this event so much less worse than it could have been. There easily could have been 100 students in the hallway listening to the amazing voices of the singers. But luckily there were none.

I wasn’t close enough in proximity to most of you to be able to talk during our lockdown. I hope you could hear me when I whispered info and comfort. But I did talk to M**** quite a bit. As some of you know, he wants to go to a military academy. He was struggling with sitting and waiting as he is the type of person that wants to take on the honorable task of protecting others. I certainly wasn’t going to let him leave the room. I do believe that he and some of your other peers who have already enlisted and trained would have done so. There are stories that aren’t for me to share of the actions some of them took in their rooms and in the library proving that our country has great individuals entering the military from AHS. M**** and I had a plan that would have involved using the rolling chairs. Other teachers used what they had. One had her mace in her purse and stood at the door ready to use it. One had a fire extinguisher and shared in a somewhat funny manner (now) to his students what he was going to do with it. Many rooms have stories like this. Ours would have been the launching of chairs. But, frankly, those were simply plans that gave me something to focus on. When things are out of my control, I find the things I can control and then prepare. I do that with department chair things, with state testing, with my divorce, with how I raise my kids. And you watched me do it with you. No students will ever understand so much about me as my 5th hour will. I share a great deal of myself in class, some might say too much. But that is who I am. But 5th hour got a deeper glance into my world. For that, I know that we will remain tied together in a special way forever.

What I didn’t share with you that day was my emotion. One of the reasons for this letter is that I know the emotion will get shared when we are together and I want to make sure you hear what I want you to hear whether I can talk about it or not. I buried how deep my emotions were running on Friday, at least in front of you. Like when my daughter was backboarded at Powell a few years ago and we thought she might have a spinal injury, I remained calm as I knew that is what others needed to see. But…I was unable to do so when my ex-wife called in a panic as she had also not heard from my daughter. I was unable to do so when my son called me from locked down Powell where I realized that he and so many of our teacher’s kids sat also in pure fear for us. I was unable to do so when I was reunited with my daughter at the church. I was unable to do so when I walked out of the church after all other students had left when on the way to the car. I really couldn’t even figure out which direction was which as it was such a surreal landscape. And I have been unable to as I read the messages you have sent me or the messages I have been sent from hundreds of former students. I thank you for your words and the avalanche of messages have been hard to appropriately respond to due to their numbers. A few stick out – the former student who had escaped civil war in Croatia at AHS and has now returned to Croatia as an ER doctor; the young lady who couldn’t remember what I taught but remembered how I helped her get through school with severe dyslexia, and the dozens who have become teachers themselves and truly understand the parental feel you have for your students/kids.

All of them feel a connection to you and feel a pain for you as fellow Warriors. That connection is very deep for them and meaningful to me. They are incredibly impressed by your very public response to events. They are changing their statuses to Warrior Strong, something you have reminded them to grasp. They want to be able to have an event with you to help you and hug you as fellow Warriors. No, most don’t know exactly what it was like for us. But they care deeply, not just for the teachers they knew, but for those that have come after as students and teachers. They know that there were 2200+ heroes, some more obvious than others – stories that I am sure are being shared by those who know them … your peer who helped lead students out of the library; the staff not in classrooms who ran “towards the thunder,” the staff that got Claire to medics before they were safe, the staff who ran through the halls to warn us all and grabbed students who weren’t in rooms, and a few who looked evil in the eyes.

We train for acts we hope will never happen. But one never really knows how he/she will respond. I always thought I knew. As I said, I knew I could be calm in chaotic situations like during the 2 month premature birth of my daughter, when I had 33 students with me in a prison that really didn’t feel safe, when my kids have been injured, when I had my snowboarding fall/injury. And I had run through my mind every time this stuff happened elsewhere what I thought I would do to protect you. And while I felt confident regarding my own response, I really had no idea what the response of my peers or my students would be. I now KNOW. I feel SAFER today than I did Friday morning because I KNOW what 2200 people can and will do when that moment strikes. While I can’t (and don’t want to) get Claire out of my mind, I also KNOW that it could have so easily been so much worse if not for the actions taken EVERYWHERE by EVERYONE in that building. I feel physically safe today at Arapahoe High School for me, my own kids, and you.

Not all are with me on that and I understand that, too. My concern is more for our emotional safety. And on that, we are in many, many places with our emotional needs. As I said, I look forward to control what I can. And as I said I only know how to be honest with you. I am struggling to know what to do with you now as a teacher. For my government kids, I am so grateful that you are mine again next semester and that we can figure this out together. For my law and econ crews, I really want to have some closure like we would have in any semester, but especially this one. I have had a very positive semester with all eight classes, even when I am trying to light a fire under some or put a leash around others. There is never a day that I’m not excited to come into the classroom. I pray that this event doesn’t cost me that and I really don’t think it will. But that fear is there.

You have heard me talk often that I want you to be in charge of your education. I want you to stop doing things for a grade or a standardized test, but instead to do it to learn. That is easier to sell in econ and law, harder in AP because of the damned test in May. I believe, more than ever, that you should control your experience for next semester. What do you need, truly need, from me to help you get whatever it is you think you need to get? And I know I could have 120 different responses from the 120 continuing AP kids and 150 more responses from those that will enter my classes in January. For some, they will want me to take that decision off of their shoulders and simply tell them what to do so that they can do it…that is a return to normal for them or a way to not have to think about things like school. I get it. Others will not want to focus on content at all, they won’t be able to. Some will want to focus on the AP exams as they are important financially…or because they simply need to be important for them. Others will not. When we return in January, we are going to have a discussion in each of my classes about what you want it to look like. And throughout the semester, we will be checking to see what changes you’ll want along the way. And I don’t think we all need to chart the same path. It will be my job to try to incorporate all paths. Frankly, this is what I think my job should be anyway rather than focusing on common assessments or standardized testing yet still preparing you to succeed on those items when you feel it is important. This event frees me to really experiment with how to do it better. And I hope it frees you to really try it.

For econ, the class is already that to an extent. But we will probably reinvent it again based on your needs. And for Law, I will really need your help. For those that have had it, you know why I am concerned. I’m not sure I can do the same class next semester. I also know so many took it based on what it is. I will need frank discussions about what we should do. For those of you who know one of our mock trial attorneys and his family, you know that these discussions aren’t just about what students can do or want, but even about what the attorneys who help our class can do. He has already contacted me about his concerns doing the type of mock trials we have always done. I look at the cases we have dealt with, the legal issues we examine and I can only assume I must change the course. But to what degree?

Beyond that, let me share my greatest fear regarding our future together. From my very first day in front of students in the fall of 1995, I have been the teacher you see today. Certainly, I got better at some things or changed tactics or content or even beliefs about my role. But I have always had what some have described as a playful style of interacting with you. I have fun as often and as much as I can. I believe that is what allows me to connect with you and for you to care about learning whether you like my content area or not. I look at last Friday. It was such a fun day until 12:30. It is odd to think that we were engaged in a discussion about porn and obscenity (Miller v California) that day. I really don’t remember, but I think we were talking about Playboy when shots rang out. Maybe you remember better than I. The conversations that day regarding Christmas celebrations in school, prayer in school (which I am sure many of you will tell me was so important to you that day and since), and then obscenity were great conversations. I wasn’t preparing you for a test, we were just talking.

But even that day, I used a tactic of choosing individuals, making them a bit uncomfortable, in order to make a point. Sometimes those points are about content. Sometimes those points are about life. Sometimes those points are trying to publically push a student to try harder or change a behavior. While my intent is always positive, I question if that is always how it is perceived. Some students in the past have not handled my method as well as most others. And I am sure I need to think about this. As an example, 4 of you in AP were chosen as drug dealers earlier this year in an example about the complexities of a federal government. Or in law and AP, when going through processes and rights, I so often make up a crime that you have “committed” against another one of you who is a “victim.” Think back on those examples, some as recently as Monday in AP. But events make us all look at everything differently. We have all read the news. I know that I have been the teacher I hope to be by pushing students to be more and better than they were before. I have been honored by some very public statements or awards that are always humbling and, frankly, embarrassing. And yet I sit here today wondering how much I have to change and if the changes I might have to make will leash me from being the teacher I so enjoy being. I tell you this, not because I am looking for confirmation or critique or criticism – which are all things that happen all of time anyway. I share this because I assume I am having similar conversations with myself that you are having about yourself. And that’s ok. Many of us have thought about things like “what could I have done?” “could I have stopped it?” “did I do something to contribute to it?” “how will I act in school?” “can I be the student/teacher/person I was?” and hundreds of other questions. All I can promise you is that I will help you in whatever way you need. And that I will probably need your help, too.

Keep Claire in your thoughts. Keep each other in your thoughts. Be Warrior Strong and take care of each other. But also take care of yourself. Sometimes we forget to do that last part because we are so good at doing the rest. Contact me through email, by texting if you have my number, through my daughter if needed, or whatever method works best for whatever you need when you need it. You are the reason I look forward to work every day, every fall, every Monday. I looked forward to today because I needed to see you today. We will be ok. As much as I can, I promise that to be so.

Meyer

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