I thought that the hardest day of my teaching career was the first day ever. That day was scary. I remember tossing and turning the whole night before. It was like being a kid again. What do I wear? What if the kids don't like me? What if they laugh at me?
Then Monday came. I talked about how worried I was on Sunday. I was worried that I wouldn't make it through the day without crying. I did, but it was still hard. Everyone had a glazed look at work that morning and it came up in conversation immediately. We all confessed that we were figuring out where in our rooms was the safest spot to hide kids. And if we could be as brave as the teachers in Newtown. If we would shield kids from bullets. If we could find courage under fire like they did, to stay calm in the face of danger like they did.
I took time at the start of the day to send Luke's teacher a quick email, thanking her and letting her know that I was thinking of her today. Knowing it must be tough for kindergarten teachers. Letting her know that we chose to not tell Luke of anything that went on Friday. Hoping that was the right decision.
My plan for Monday was to let the kids lead. I proceeded with my lesson, Act I, Scene 1 of The Diary of Anne Frank. I gave them candy canes while we were reading, a subtle way of letting them know that I cared. I knew that there would be time at the end of class where if they needed to talk, they could. My first two classes passed without incident and I thought, "Hey. These kids are resilient!" Then my third hour came along. Toward the end of class, I heard some kids start to get into it about gun control. I hovered around the edges when I heard one boy say with hurt in his voice, "Actually, I can give you 27 good reasons why we need gun control." A girl turned to me and said, "He has strong feelings about guns!" I simply said, "I think we all do after Friday," and that seemed to calm the situation. Still, I could see that they were hurting. A few of the boys lingered after class, including the one who was arguing so vehemently on the side of gun control. Then the tough questions came. The whys and the hows. The ones I couldn't answer. One boy said that he thought that the media glorified these types of crimes and that's why these guys did it. Throughout the day, we were all asked by the kids where they would hide in our room. Would we check in the hall to see if other students were in the hall (of course). These questions are some of the hardest because it shows that the realization has sunk in, the realization that because every time this happens, people say "This could never happen here." There is no never here anymore. It could happen anywhere.
Today, we began writing Santa letters for first graders. It's something I've done every year since I began teaching. I love it. It's my favorite project. The first graders write letters to Santa and my students respond to them as Santa. It's so magical. Sometimes my students even remember writing their Santa letters from all those years ago. This year, it was a little heavier. Still as magical, still as fun, but in the back of my head the ever present reminder of those first graders whose lives were tragically cut short. It's hard to get this one out of my head.
I still see shadows. Not all of them, but in some of them. In a boy who says he can't watch the news without crying. In the number of absences we've had this week. Is there an illness going around? Or are we all afraid of the lack of safe space? I know there is so much light, but the dark still lingers. Today a student got angry and I made him do yoga with me. When we finished, I put my hands in a ball shape and threw it at him and said, "positive light, take it with you." At the end of the day, he told me he was taking the light with him. If only it was that easy.