If you have ever been in an elementary school at the end of the school year; it is well contained chaos. Sometimes, also, not very well contained.
Yesterday was no exception. On a near-perfect Minnesota spring day, I sat outside, in front of 50(ish) of my Kindergarten students, as they sang in their Kindergarten graduation program.
Their voices, often out of tune, and rarely in the same tempo, sang:
The future is lookin’ good to me! I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go, yeah, the future is lookin’ good to me!
Nothing’s going to bring us down! Never gonna quit, gotta go! Because I know I’ll keep getting stronger.
As I climbed into my car at the end of the day, a smile on my face, I turned on the news, only to hear of yet another school shooting.
Lying in bed last night, my kindergarten students’ voices were echoing in my head, singing of the future, and of saying goodbye to friends. I thought of 19 children (and countless more) who have no future to sing of, no goodbyes to be said, and an end of the year chaos of a horrific kind in Texas.
This morning, I woke up, and got ready. In the rain, I put my 6- and 8-year-old on the school bus, reminding them as I do every day, to be “safe, kind, and responsible”.
I drove to work at an elementary school and walked down the hallway to my classroom as I do every day. But the silence was deafening. No chat about weekend plans. No counting of days left in the year. No bemoaning another day of indoor recess.
At 8:25 AM, the bell rang. Excited students ran down the hallway. The third graders were dressed up for a field trip to see a play. The fifth graders were bummed their track and field meet was canceled due to rain.
At 8:40 AM, the bell rang again. My 4th graders streamed into class. We played an online trivia game (which they love), and we talked about nothing in particular. We laughed, joked, and lovingly teased each other, as only a class at the end of the school year can do. It was as if we all had a silent understanding that this was our duty. Treat today as a normal day. Treat these walls, halls, classrooms as the safe places we (want to) know they are.
My brain knows we have all become too accustomed to this. That is being a student, a teacher, or school staff member in America. Greeting each other normally and calmly after trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma. My brain knows we have just become too desensitized. Used to emailed talking points and links to resources. Used to the anger, the fear, the sadness, and inaction.
My heart however, isn’t so sure. How many collective traumas can one system tolerate? I watch colleagues resign, retire early, and at the bare minimum, consider aloud “why do we do this?”
This year, I’ve had many conversations with my students surrounding resilience. I know they are tired too. My coworkers and fellow teachers everywhere are having the same conversations. Kids want to give up when things get hard, because life is harder than it was before. Last night, in talking with my 8-year-old daughter about school, I asked her about resilience.
Do you sometimes get frustrated or cry when things are hard?
Yes, but if that’s all you do it doesn’t really do any good?
Because then you just get stuck.
Because then you just get stuck. We are stuck. As a country, as a people, as a system. STUCK.
In the Bible, Job says “nevertheless the righteous keep moving forward”. And this is the only way out.
The only way to become unstuck is forward.
And so, I tune out my social media, and turn off the news, and pointing fingers, and screaming voices.
I wipe my tears, and greet a new bunch of students. Giving out hugs, band aids, reminders, and calm. Making joyful (though not always pleasant) music.
Not because I am desensitized. But because I’d rather move forward to action in hope, love, and faith. Than be STUCK in a cycle of hate, fear, and anger.
As a music educator, my mind is usually cycling with some song to guide me throughout my day.
Today I’m left singing words from Stephen Sondheim, and remembering that little eyes and ears are watching and listening. So we mustn’t be stuck too long.
Guide them along the way,
Children will glisten
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say, listen to me.
Children will listen.
Hannah Fleming has been teaching elementary music teacher for the South Washington County Schools for twelve years. She is a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota and holds a Master’s degree from Minnesota State University. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Eden Prairie where they spend most their free time chasing them around, cleaning up messes, and laughing together.
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