During my educational career, I taught 4,000-plus students. With my fifth- through eighth-graders (10-15 years old), I faced student-on-student bullying, fights, illegal drugs, suicide attempts, sexual assaults, two rapes, brass knuckles, knives, gun, and four student-written threats to shoot classmates and staff. I am just one teacher.
In the ’90s, while teaching eighth grade, at the end of one school day, we teachers learned a gun had been passed back and forth between a sub’s classroom (on our team) and students’ lockers. The following day, I asked students in each of my five classes to write/respond to several questions posted: How and when did you learn about the gun on our team? What were you feeling? What would have helped you share with an adult? What could we do to better safeguard our students, our children?
The innocence, fear, and helplessness shared in their writing was revealing and heartbreaking. Students did not know how to tell. Students did not want to be seen talking to adults, did not want to be seen in counselors’ or administrators’ offices.
Students discussed and created the following: Let students write notes to me and slide notes into my hand as I circulated about the classroom. Create and set a box near the classroom door so students could place notes in box if they did not get their notes into my hand. We discussed how no classmate would know what they were sharing: questions about their academics, a headache or stomachache, lack of sleep, parents going through a divorce, safety issues. We discussed that students did not need to include their name. If they did sign their name, I would respond within 24 hours, if not by the end of the day, if not by the end of my planning period. Daily, students began sliding notes into my hand, sharing challenges they were facing or observing; safety issues included bullying, suicide attempts, illegal drugs, upcoming fights, weapons ... . Almost every student included his/her name, wanting a return note.
I strongly encourage parents and educators to include this note sharing in their children’s classrooms. “Under the radar” is a term we use when students are aware of situations before adults. Students’ note-sharing was instrumental in helping me learn “under the radar” situations our students were facing.
The highest priority of school leaders, elected officials and communities should be to ensure a quality education in a safe environment.
Research reveals that a child needs to feel safe, loved and valued to be most receptive to learning. Academic success increases with a focus on safety. Also, many students who commit violent crimes, threaten others or act out are crying for help. Do not let their cries for help go ignored.
We need to effectively ensure the safety of our children and school personnel. School safety is every child’s right.
Barbara Leland helped create a local Safer Schools Team (www.saferschools.blogspot.com), participated in High Point Community Against Violence, served on three steering committees (Mental Health of Our Children; Classroom Climate; Gang Prevention and Intervention) with the N.C. Safer Schools Team, and served as a regional mathematics coordinator with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Mathematics Division and as a consultant with six national educational publishing companies.