Sunday, March 18, 2018

#NationalWalkoutDay - Wonderful Idea or Waste of Time?

Many have had a lot of questions for me - in light of recent Florida events and a viral blog post - regarding the nationwide walkouts that occurred this past Wednesday. Do I support it? Is it legal? How did I handle it? How did my school handle it? And most prominently... Do I think it's a good thing? Or is it just a way to get out of class play?

What are your feelings regarding #NationalWalkoutDay?
I think both, I suppose. And keep in mind, I teach kindergarten - so few of my students were prepared to leave for it. There were only a few who could figure out what time it was, ...and then every other kindergartener decided they needed to get up and leave too.

Personally, I think it's ridiculous that students so young participated. Not because they were too young (I truly believe age has nothing to do with it), but because of maturity. Maturity is also a problem in higher grades. But lasting impact is the biggest issue in all grades.

I think the walkout itself was a wonderful idea. Except no one is talking about it anymore. So in a way, we wasted 17 minutes of instructional time right before the third quarter was brought to a close for something that made the national news for a day. Then we all moved on to something else. And honestly, I think those 17 victims deserve a little more than that.

But maturity. Many students will jump up and protest to get out of class. Because they want to miss math. Or because they want desperately to fit in with that cool progressive on student council that just might make them popular enough to be Student Body President next year. The motives are still selfish. And I don't support that at all.

So how did you handle #NationalWalkoutDay in your classroom?
The rule in Miss Harper's room was: if you can tell me why you are walking out, and explain your position in its entirety, then you may leave to participate - whether I agree with your position or not. If you cannot tell me why you are walking out (i.e. you are leaving to goof off with your friend in the hallway), then you may not leave to participate. Only one of my students could tell me why he thought it important to participate, and I let him go.

How did your school, as a whole, handle #NationalWalkoutDay?
I'm glad you asked. Because before you think I'm an awful teacher for letting / not letting my students participate, you should know that my school as a whole participated. Can you imagine your boss giving a company order and you doing your own thing? Can you spell F-I-R-E-D?

But, my school administration wasn't stupid about it either. I was actually very impressed with the way they went about it. Allowing walkouts is an extreme safety violation (students who were counted "in the building" on attendance rosters were leaving without checking out or say where they were going), and come on ya'll. It's a National WalkOUT Day for students against gun violence. Talk about making yourself a target for the next shooting.

But heaven forbid we prohibit a student's freedom of speech. This was a battle I feel my district, as a whole, simply didn't want to fight.

So instead, my school created a designated area within the building for students to walk out of class and go to instead. They all gathered in the gym for 17 minutes, and then returned to class. As a metropolitan public school district, we recognize that demonstrations - when knowledge and motives are correct and moral - can be a very good thing.

How impactful do you expect #NationalWalkoutDay to be on an immediate level / long term? 
I am heartbroken - yet so proud - that one of my kinders recognized violence and chose to demonstrate safely and peacefully. That's like...12 battles won at a school like mine! But - if you've been around the blog for a while, you know one of my biggest peeves is empty words and mild actions.

Let me restate something I mentioned earlier: I think the walkout itself was a wonderful idea. Except no one is talking about it anymore. So in a way, we wasted 17 minutes of instructional time right before the third quarter was brought to a close for something that made the national news for a day. Then we all moved on to something else. And honestly, I think those 17 victims deserve a little more than that.

One walkout does nothing except raise awareness. Which is great, except we've been raising awareness since Columbine. We've been ready for step 2 since Sandy Hook, and still haven't done it.

What I Wish We Would've Done Instead Of #NationalWalkoutDay. 

  • Said "Hello!" to someone we don't know
    • We could've easily made this opportunity about growing friendships and fostering the school community within our own school, rather than simply bringing awareness against something that has been going on for far too long. 
  • Wrote a note to someone you don't normally talk to, specifically the "kid in the corner"
    • A lot of schools had "Walk Ups" instead of "Walk Outs." Who is that kid in the corner? Have you even noticed he's there? What about that girl who eats lunch by herself every day? What about the freshman who never quite got into a club, and now it's too late to join one? That kid - right there - could be our next shooter. He is depressed. She is aggressively anxious. And most importantly, they are alone. One friend might be all they need, rather than a gun, to make them feel as though they matter. If they need attention so badly that they will shoot up a school and die while doing it, then a good friend is an excellent alternative. *Disclaimer* They probably won't be easy to like. But it is oh so important that we give them a chance. 
  • Teachers banded together during their planning time to design / explore an SEL curriculum that actually benefitted their kids at their grade level
    • There are multiple curriculums for this everywhere, but we don't use them. "This doesn't fit my grade level!" teachers say. My response: Change it so it does. "My kids don't like doing the activities!" teachers say. My response: Create new ones. "There's not enough time in the day!" teachers say. My response: Make time. "That's just one more thing I have to plan for!" teachers say. And I get it. Believe me, I do. But my response: Lazy. This is not about you. 
  • Left compliment cards
    • Why didn't we use the time to write letters? Create notes? Make cards? Leave them in desks? On lockers? Posted to bathroom mirrors? These are the places students frequent. It's also the same places they retreat to just before shooting up a school, news reports have told me. Why don't we do this more? And why are we still raising awareness instead of becoming part of the solution in light of the problem? 
  • Decorated schools with Take-What-You-Needs.
    • You've probably seen these before. Take what you need! the papers read. And then there are little strips to tear off at the bottom that say confidence or smiles or laughter or love. Let's take this one step further, shall we? On the back of confidence, write the name and office hours of the school counselor. On the back of smiles, write a compliment that could be applicable to anyone, like "I'm glad you showed up to school today," or "You are the only one on this planet designed to be you." On the back of laughter, write the name of your funniest friend and an invitation to join to the two of you for lunch. On the back of love, write your phone number. 
  • Passed a law
    • But seriously, why have we not really done this yet. 
  • Lock In
    • Teachers lock the door for 17 minutes. Students gather on the carpet, or in a circle around their high school desks. Primary Classrooms: Discuss diversity, and reinforce the idea that good people aren't all good and bad people aren't all bad. We're all just people making decisions. Ask them what kinds of decisions they will make and why. Ask them ways they could be a good friend and why. Ask them ways they could "change the world' and why. Trust me, they will have some big ideas. Secondary Classrooms: Discuss the events of these school shootings. State some of the causes and problems we see in society. Discuss what we can do - yes even us "little people" - to become part of the solution. 
I'm not saying we shouldn't have protested or demonstrated. Actually quite the opposite. I think we should've done it and more. I don't think we should've used these 17 minutes to march and protest and then head right back to class after putting our posters away. I think we should've used these 17 minutes to bring attention to the 17 lives lost with hope, positivity, and strives toward solutions. 

This is a little much, don't you think? you might say. Isn't it wrong to expect our young kids and young adults to sacrifice time and effort to ensure other people's happiness?

Well. No, not really. Ha! Not if I'm being honest with you, no. I don't. I don't think it's wrong to expect our young kids to make friends in an open and forward way. I don't think it's wrong to reach out to the introvert in the corner. I don't think it's wrong to compliment people, to build them up, to encourage them in all that they do. I do not think this means we are taking responsibility for their happiness, because that is impossible. But I do not think it is wrong to sacrifice time and effort so that people might be happier. 

Actually, I think it's basic humanity. 

If you've already forgotten about #NationalWalkoutDay, shame on you. You missed the whole point. But here's the deal. We've raised awareness. We've done the protests. Now let's actually do something about it. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today I Swore I Was A Time Traveler

About a year ago, I passed through the Atlanta airport less than 24 hours after surgery. I was traveling to Nashville, Tennessee to see Dylan Roth about a week after we made the decision to get back together following five years apart. I had a semester of college left, and I would move to be with him immediately following graduation. Which I did. It was the best stupid decision I'd made in my life.

In the meantime of our long distance, we had made plans to visit as often as possible. Which was why I had planned to drive to Nashville that weekend despite my post-surgery state. The problem was, I was still whacked out on anesthetic and wasn't allowed to drive. But, if you know me, I don't give up that easily. So alas, here I came - via plane - my body covered in bright orange high-power antiseptic, wrapped with a compression pack in a 10-foot ace bandage to keep my stitches clean and intact.

I know what you're thinking. And you're right.

I'm an absolute crackpot.

But I was a crackpot in love. So I'm sure my doctor had wanted to prohibit me from traveling altogether, but I really appreciate him giving me the antiseptic bandage because I was going to do it anyway. That's just kind of who I am as a person.

Last weekend, I was passing through that same airport again. Not visiting Nashville like I was so many months ago, but returning home. 

That's when I saw her. She was about 18. Maybe 19. Book shopping, with her dark brown hair in a long wavy ponytail and a Starbucks coffee practically sewn to her palm.

"It's a good book," I told her peering over her shoulder, "You should get it."

"Thanks!" she looked up and her blue eyes met mine, "I was deciding between these two." She pulled out another.

I shrugged. "Get both."

Her eyes widened. "You read my mind."

I smiled.

"Where are you headed?" she asked me.

"Home," I was thankful I could finally say, "To Nashville. You?"

"Chicago," she told me, "My boyfriend goes to school there."

I giggled to myself. "Long distance sucks, huh."

"Yeah," she said, "And it's expensive, too."

Darn right... I thought to myself. "Is the end in sight?" I asked her.

"Oh, yes. Thank goodness," she told me, "We're both freshmen. We dated in high school and broke up to go to different places. It wasn't worth it. I'm transferring there in the fall."

I stood dumbfounded - noting the hair. The eyes. The book. The coffee. The scenario. This girl was a younger me. A me who had forgiven faster. Got over her pain quicker. Reconnected within months, rather than years. An alternate universe Bethany, who was making the exact same future in a totally different way.

"I know it sounds stupid," she validated herself as I realized I hadn't responded yet, "I'm so not the girl who moves for a boy..."

"No, no, I get it," I interrupted her, "I'm not that girl either."

She waited for more.

"But I did it."

She breathed a sigh of relief.


"Yep. Moved to Nashville less than a year ago for my high school sweetie. We didn't talk for five years. But we reconnected and felt it was worth another shot."

"And was it?!"


"Woah. How long have you guys been together?"

"A little over a year now."

"Ahh!" she squealed as if we were suddenly best friends at a teenage sleepover, "That's so great. Think there's a ring in your future?"

I had to see that coming. That's always the next question in line.

"Not anytime soon," I laughed, "It's just not the most important thing right now."

"Is it not?"

At first I thought she was joking, but I looked more closely to find that she was really asking. As if she was waiting to find out what was the most important thing right now. Waiting to find out if she was about to do it wrong.

"I mean clearly you love him," she persisted.

"Oh clearly!" I reassured her, "But I just think the most important thing is loving life. Loving what you're doing. Where you're doing it. And who you're doing it with."

She nodded as if she understood.

"Do you like Chicago?"

"It's not my first choice," she shrugged, "But it's a good city. I like being there. There's lots to do."

I smiled again.

"I hope we end up like you guys," she told me.

I glanced back to the book in her hand. Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur. My copy sat on my nightstand at home. Dog eared and weathered, spine practically crumpled, the pages stained with ink and tears. It was the ultimate self love book for a 20-something woman - full of poems about beauty and love despite hardship and trial.

"Something tells me you will," I told her.

I turned to return to my gate. "Hey," I called to her just before leaving. She paused to look up. "What are you majoring in?"

"Undecided!" she shouted to the door, "But I'm thinking about being a teacher."


I didn't ask for her name. I knew I'd be scared out of my wits if it turned out to be Bethany, and I also didn't want it to ruin the idea that I might be in a younger parallel universe if it was something else. So I left it there. No name, no number, no email - no way to ever get in touch again.

But I wish you the best, little one. You are crazy for moving for a boy. But you're also very happy. I can tell.

P.S. - I'm sure you'll make an awesome teacher. Have you ever thought about starting a blog?