Our students, our kids, went to bed one night and awoke the next morning to learn that while they slept, two officers were murdered in their safe community by one of their own.
When they returned to school the next day, the kids appeared to act normal, but teenagers are good at that. They’re good at pretending nothing is wrong.
The day started with my Connections (Connections is similar to homeroom). I had the kids circle up the desks, and I started in. I shared with them my story of how I heard the news, my initial thoughts and feelings….my fears for community and myself.
Then I opened it up for them to share.
Nothing. Nobody wanted to talk.
So I kept talking.
“You know, I am scared too,” I told them.
“I got to thinking about conferences tonight and about walking to my car after dark. I thought, I don’t want to walk alone in the dark anymore if this is what it’s going to be like.”
The kids nodded some. But they were still quiet.
“But we can’t let ourselves think like this,” I said. “This is our home. This place is still a safe place. My class, your school – you are always safe here.
I don’t know if you know that this all stems from hate. Hate. Hate loves fear. Fear fuels hate.
And the only way to drive hate out is with love.”
The kids moved a little. They looked a little uncomfortable.
That word “love”, especially when it’s coming from a teacher…it’s “weird”. Teachers aren’t supposed to talk about love.
“I’m not talking about romantic love or friendship love,” I continued. “I’m talking about love for humanity. Love for your neighbors and your community. We need to love each other. You don’t have to like everyone, but you can show them love because they are a human being that shares this Earth with you. We are all in on this journey of life together. Show them love.
Right now, the form of love I think we all need to practice is bravery.
It will take being brave to continue living life believing this world is good and safe. You are the future. One day you’ll be the one kids look to. You get to decide if this world is safe and good and that’s not always going to be easy, like today.
Bravery is love.
You’re young. This experience you’re going through is rare. You’ll remember yesterday and today forever. It’s now part of you. What will you do with it?
I hope you love. I hope you show love and empathy to all those involved. I know that those police officers were shot, but in a way, it’s okay to feel as if we all were. Who we were yesterday is gone.
I hope you love through the hate. Be brave. Continue being you.”
They were quiet. Some were staring at the ground. Some were looking right at me.
“Well, that’s my two cents worth anyways,” I said. “Just love.”
A student raised her hand.
For a solid fifteen minutes we shared our stories and talked about how we could be supportive to our community and toward the accused’s daughter by staying off of social media and not partaking in hateful talk. We ended our time together with making a card for our school police officer.
Teenagers, even though they may at first appear unaffected by current events, politics, bullying, arguing, and the list goes on as to the things I get to read about in their writing as their English teacher, care. They absolutely care.
They are watching. They are listening. They are looking to us adults – parents and teachers – to know what to do and how to react.
Let’s show them how to react with love.
Jolee Donnelly teaches English at Urbandale High School.