Days Like These … (on bullying) prose

bullying

I often wonder about my passions in life. I know I became a teacher for a reason, but that isn’t always enough to satisfy my curiosity. I love my job, I love the students I work with, and love all the challenges that come with my classroom and the stage work that occurs after the school day is over. Yet, I often still feel unfulfilled. I do have a beautiful family, wonderful wife, two healthy children that certainly create my reason to exist beyond all or any of my internal struggles. When those challenging days capture my psyche and I question what I am doing or entertain discouragement, my children come to mind immediately. My family and my students often help me to identify a source of purpose in my life, and then an afternoon like today occurs.

I spent the afternoon at a conference named Safe Students, Safe Schools sponsored by the Adler Graduate School in the Twin Cities. The conference was designed to address the issue of bullying in our schools; however, the goal was not only to mollify the many facets of the bully, as much as it was about exploring the whole process of identification. We often forget about the human nature of the bully when all of our energy is spent focused upon addressing the needs of the victim. Today’s conference intended to speak upon the many facets of the issue. The speakers were strong minded and provided wonderful resources to address the topics of the day. Like any conference there was a desire for more definition, more reason for attending, more need to recognize the burden of addressing such an issue in our schools without trivializing the actual label of the process. There seems to be strong commitment to raising awareness in the schools, but sadly, the execution of solution often falls short and the problem becomes a minimized initiative rather than a recognized need.

When I attend sessions like today I often personalize my reaction to the process. I think of my classroom and how I respond to my students on a daily basis. Today, I naturally thought of those students I find most troubling, the ones that interfere with the process of my classroom, the individuals whose sole purpose is, in my mind, to play a power game against my abilities and inevitably label themselves alone, as hostile and disruptive. I think of those situations that interfere with my teaching. I imagine those scenarios that have me wishing I could have the student removed rather than deal with their constant behavior issues throughout the day. I fail to think about their contributions as a human being and focus more upon their insubordinate angst. And then it happens, a speaker takes us along a different course of action. A person, a human being spends time baring their soul, telling their personal story of their child as a student in the classroom, from their perspective as a caring parent.

Tom Mauser’s son Daniel was not a bully, far from it. He was, and is, in Tom’s mind a thriving young man, filled with vigor and energy to capture the attention of his loving father and mother, and younger sister. Daniel Mauser is dead. He was a victim of the Columbine tragedy that took the lives of 13 people on a typical school day. Tom is quick to point out he does not want to ‘white-wash’ this personal tragedy by calling it an incident. He is adamant in telling us that before he begins the story of ‘that day’ that we as audience recognize it as a tragedy and nothing less. Tom Mauser is a real human being with the courage to speak to an audience of strangers, though active listeners, and relive the story of the day he lost his son to a shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Tom Mauser then proceeded to bring all of us the horrific details of the day he lost his son, starting with pictures of his birth and through the early years leading up to his young age of 15 at the hands of the assailants. What is important to recognize here is that Tom began this whole story reflecting upon what was on his mind that day. He was attending a conference. He didn’t imagine that this day would begin and end the way it did, losing his son in a high school big enough to hide a percentage of its population on a typical school day.

I listened to Tom as I thought about my school and the potential for such a tragedy. I thought about my students and found myself thinking about ways to approach those students I wanted nothing to do with. I thought about why I became a teacher, and realized those are the challenges that I certainly signed up for when I chose this career. I thought about my own family and how easily I find my priorities becoming skewed when I fail to focus upon what is important in my life. I thought about calling my son and daughter. I then thought, thank God I am attending this conference on a Saturday.

© Thom Amundsen 2014