There is a lot to of conversation about the Uvalde tragedy, understandably so. There are a lot of hot takes, to be sure. But for me, in the midst of all the important questions it forces us to ask, one thing it should highlight for us is the importance of every troubled student having someone they can talk with and rely on, especially when they are really struggling. This is certainly no guarantee that terrible things won’t happen; and yes, there are a lot of other things to be said & considered. But if every teenager had one adult who was connected enough to see the difficulty, and speak up, perhaps we might have less tragic headlines — hopefully because we would have less students who feel isolated and unloved.
The Uvalde massacre is a horrific reminder of how central schools are to children’s lives, and to the communities where they live.
As a part of my job, I get to be in schools and spend time with those we task with helping structure our education system and care for the students within it. Thankfully, there have been no school shootings in my district. Nothing compares to such devastation.
But in conversations, I’ve also learned how difficult the year has been. I was talking with one administrator who has made sacrifices this year for her students — and it has affected her health & her family.
I talked with another who told me that the school district where she works has had about 50% fewer substitute teachers available this school year, vs. last year. As a result, she and her fellow administrators have had to cover for teachers who are out sick or for other reasons. On the particular day we met, she had a schedule that involved 2 hours subbing for the music teacher. Not only is that outside of her area of expertise, it’s also 2 hours away from the job she needs to be doing: serving as the sole guidance counselor for the 500+ students in her building. As with the other administrator I mentioned, she has had a difficult year with health — both hers and her family’s.
And there’s always more work to do than there is time. One counselor told me she works every Sunday; the other can’t do that, so she has to work after her kids go to bed. She told me that, as a believer, she chooses on the drive home to focus on the many small good things that happened that day, rather than the 5 bad things that are really heavy.
I share this with you because I have a bit of an insider’s view of this — the side of school leadership that many don’t get to see. Bigger than politics, or school shutdowns, or masking, or curriculum challenges, I think it’s really important to remember that (at least in the schools I get to see), those who are working behind the scenes love kids, are working very hard, and may be easy to overlook in the midst of all the emotion & disruption of the past 2 years. This isn’t to say that there are real issues to discuss when it comes to public education; there are. I know. I get to see some of it, and I have some definite opinions of my own.
But it is so important for us to remember that behind policies and procedures and covid protocols there are … real people. People who, from my experience, genuinely care about kids. A significant majority of the people I interact with in schools are doing the best they can — usually with a smile on their face. And many of them are believers, seeking to be faithful to Jesus in what is undoubtedly a challenging context.
But whatever faith school personnel profess (or don’t), how can we who are walking in the way of Jesus be anything other than kind — especially when we pause and remember how difficult the job is for educators, and especially when we pause and reflect how disruptive covid has been?
Again, this isn’t about not using our voice or speaking legitimate concerns we have. But my work in schools has taught me that most school folks want to support struggling kids & are working to ensure all kids have a chance; and that some of those leaders are also struggling. The way that Christians will make a difference in our schools is not by anger, but by kindness; it’s not by standing outside and yelling, but by getting inside and serving; and it’s not by giving up, but by getting into the lives of kids.
Maybe for you that looks like mentoring kids in school; if so, we should talk. 🙂 Or maybe it looks like finding one teacher or school administrator in your life, and making it a point to be a consistent encouragement to her (or him). Maybe it means that you get involved in your school’s PTA or as a volunteer so that you have skin in the game when you speak up. Maybe it means you step up and sub this fall. Or maybe it just means you remember that there are real people behind those school walls, facing real challenges — at work, and at home.
Whatever it is you do, and whatever concerns you have, I challenge you to be known first for your love for children, their schools, and the people who lead them.