Teaching Isn’t Easy on a Regular Day
On Friday, May 18, there was another school shooting. There have been more than 20 school shootings in 2018 (source).
For those who know me, it is no secret what I think about this or the need to end gun violence – and my support of organizations working hard to do it. I’ve said so many things so many times about it all.
Today, I’m going to say something different.
Every time these deadly and tragic and truly awful events happen to students and teachers, I think about the school I lead and our community. It’s unimaginable to think about it happening and it’s unimaginable to think about the aftermath. The only way I can even *remotely* relate to what these schools must go though is thinking about the hard times we have faced and how generous acts of kindness and encouragement always made a difference in those times.
Without ever having experienced something so terrifying as a school shooting, I do know that people reaching out in hard times helps. I know this for sure.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I reached out by filling out a form on their website. A little more than a month later, I got an email from a Stoneman Douglas teacher who told me, “As I am sure you can understand, staff morale is a concern for us. Each day does bring challenges, so if you are interested in doing something for the staff that would be amazing.”
I could definitely understand.
And I had ideas about what we could do about it.
Twenty-one of us from our school community (teachers, staff, board members and parents) donated money to do something special for Stoneman Douglas and another 16 of us committed to writing notes of encouragement to their almost-200 instructional staff members. I was given a list of names of the Stoneman Douglas teachers and administrators, and we divided them up and got to work.
Then, through my connection with Tropical Smoothie Café (because their charity partner is an organization I’ve been involved with for many years), I was put in touch with the owner of a Tropical Smoothie Café location 6 miles from the school. I thought with our collection and maybe a discount from them, it would be possible to provide a lunch for all of the Stoneman Douglas staff. Turns out it was more than possible! Tropical Smoothie Café very generously donated 250 boxed lunches and smoothies for the Stoneman Douglas staff on May 14, which was a day that their students had an early dismissal and the teachers had a meeting.
To coincide with the lunch, we sent down a package with our cards and little boxes filled with Hershey’s Hugs and a label saying “Hugs from one school community to another – thinking of you at Pinecrest School in Northern Virginia. ” We’re in the process of sending down another 100 boxes of Hugs for the Stoneman Douglas office, custodial and school security staff as well.
Notes on the left and boxes of Hershey’s Hugs on the right
Even after mailing the box of cards and chocolates and buying the supplies to put it all together, it still left us with a good chunk of money. (The Tropical Smoothie Café CEO also made a personal donation to the cause!)
The first Stoneman Douglas teacher with whom I was in touch connected me with another teacher to talk about how best to use this money to support them. I knew immediately what kind of educator she was when she called me one week night at 8:40 p.m. as she was leaving school for the day.
She shared a lot with me on that phone call about how the teachers in the building where the shooting took place were affected. They lost 30 classrooms and two teacher lounge spaces. She and the other administrators have been prioritizing doing nice things for all of the teachers, but for the displaced teachers in particular. They have been finding ways to get together off campus because they need to be together. It’s hard for them to talk about this with others who have not experienced it. On February 14, as the shooting was happening, many teachers thought it was a drill; they had no idea it was real.
She told me that there is data on teacher retention rates in situations like this (she mentioned Sandy Hook and Columbine) that 50-90% of teachers will turn over after this kind of incident. She said that would “really devastate them” so she’s working very hard not to have that happen at Stoneman Douglas – and she’s also worried about the summer when they will all go their own ways.
At the end of the call she said, “They are all very proud to be teachers, and they’ll be very happy people at another school thought of them.”
It probably goes without saying that this conversation was very moving – and enlightening.
So, in the next couple of days, we’ll be sending down the remainder of the funds we collected (part in a check to the school and part in Visa gift cards so there is no restriction on how they can use it) with a note indicating our intention: self-care for the Stoneman Douglas teachers and school leaders.
And, then, I am going to reach out to Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, to see what we can do to help them.
And I encourage you to do so too.
“Pinecrest School in Annandale, VA is #MSDStrong with you! ❤️” Pictured here are some of our teachers and staff and members of the Board of Directors who participated in support efforts. #ThisIsCommunity
“Teaching isn’t easy on a regular day. Please know how many thoughts are with you all at this time.”
This was part of the message on my cards to the Stoneman Douglas teachers I had on my list.
I was hesitant to tell this story because the couple friends I did share it verbally with all reacted similarly – with comments about how they would have never thought of this and compliments for me that I did. While I appreciate their generous words, I did not want that kind of attention. There should not be anything special about reaching out to people who need to help. It should be what everyone does. It should be the norm. That’s why, in the wake of the most recent school shooting, I’m telling this story now: I hope it will encourage others to reach out, more regularly and also with the realization that you don’t need a lot of money to do it. You only need to realize how much of an impact we can all make on each other if we try and if we focus more outward rather than inward. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had similar views: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”)
There doesn’t seem to be a clear or easy way to make contact with Santa Fe High School on their website or on the school district site (yet) but I’ll keep clicking around and see what I can find. (And I’ll update this if I find a direct link.)
If you want to do something for the Stoneman Douglas teachers and staff, please let me know and I can put you in touch with the two teacher leaders I’ve been thinking about daily ever since we connected.
Finally, if you have views on gun violence prevention, please contact your US Senators, your US Representative, the President and your state governor, senator and representative. I believe using our voices matters as much as I believe reaching out makes a difference. (If you would like to see sample letters I’ve sent many times in the past, let me know. I am happy to share them.)
And here are some organizations that you can support if you are so inclined: Everytown for Gun Safety, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. You can find a local Moms Demand Action (for anyone, not just moms) or a Students Demand Action group here.
But, even if you don’t agree with my feelings about gun violence prevention, please think about what you can do to help teachers at schools affected by gun violence. Teaching isn’t easy on a regular day, and educators need our consistent support to make a difference to their students and to our future.
Nicole McDermott is in her 13th year leading Pinecrest School, a small, engaging independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia. She volunteers for a week ever summer at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from all around the country, and as a result of that experience has become an unofficial brand ambassador for Tropical Smoothie Café. Tropical Smoothie Café has donated more than $1 million to Camp Sunshine in the past ten years.
Nicole prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into more of her best self. She knew in second grade she wanted to be a teacher and considers it her vocation and calling much more so than her occupation. You can read more of Nicole McDermott’s written work on this blog.