Teachers need to be bigger part of school safety

One of the great things about teaching middle school — yes, I just said there were great things about teaching middle school — is helping kids learn from failure, turning a negative experience into something positive. The failures at a middle school level are important because most academic and social failures aren’t life altering at that age. And kids have their parents and teachers to guide them through the process of accepting defeat, taking responsibility for their actions and using the experience to make positive changes. No question, the process is a difficult one for all parties involved but a very important one and it is an honor to be there to help guide the process.

The recent incident at the high school is a grown up example of this point. Our community had a wake up call that resulted in no harm to anyone. Like my middle school students, it is our job to learn from it, accept that we are not immune to the woes in the world and come out of it smarter, better, more prepared than before. Let me be clear to say that I think having a school resource officer in the high school is a positive move and in the best interest of the kids. I voted favorably for it in the past and will again when it is presented to the voters.

Having taught for 15 years, in middle and high schools, I don’t necessarily think that an SRO can guard our kids from all of the dangers in our schools — that is too big a burden for one person. It is a great place to start though. For many years I have watched our community struggle with budget issues; trying to honor the economic crisis that our elderly, low income and struggling families face, with the need for a high quality education for our children — and our future. It’s like trying to win a NASCAR race in a minivan.

What is unsettling to this experienced educator is how infrequently the voice of the teacher is heard. It is truly baffling to me how we live in a community that employs hundreds of educational experts and yet we are almost never asked our thoughts and opinions on issues for which we are schooled and have years of experience. When I have a medical issue I call my doctor; when my car breaks down I call my mechanic. When our schools need help we call upon the general public. We do this is because the general public provides the funding; not because they are the most qualified.

If we want to improve the safety and education of our schools we need to ask and listen to the teachers in our district. Without hesitation my number one solution to the education and safety of our kids is to stop cutting teaching positions. Notice that I didn’t say you need to pay us more; give us shorter hours; make summers longer; provide us with cheaper insurance. I didn’t say it because that won’t make our schools safer for kids. More high quality teachers who kids can trust, look up to, learn from, confide in is what our children need. Our children need a teacher who has the energy and time to show them that we do care about them as an individual; that we see and appreciate their uniqueness. That the rest of the world might view them as a test score, but we view them as the kid whose mom has been laid off or whose father is fighting cancer.

An educator asking for more teachers isn’t about making my day easier because I’m a slacker. It’s because I want to have enough time in my day to look kids in the eye and tell them, specifically, what is so wonderful about them. It is so that when a child is hurting, confused or scared they have a teacher to turn to who has a relationship with them and their parents that is built on trust and compassion. But most importantly, they have a teacher who has time in his or her day meet with them individually and on a regular basis.

Research shows that students who have an emotional connection to their teacher are more eager to learn, more willing to make mistakes and have more confidence in their studies.

The educators in this district understand the financial struggles that the people in our community have. We share in those challenges. And we also know that people cannot simultaneously advocate for safer, better schools while advocating for across the board budget cuts. Our community will always struggle with educational issues but for the sake of our children and our own futures we need to allow the experienced educators among us to voice their opinions and have it received respectfully.

Kristen Levesque is a teacher at South Meadow School and lives in Peterborough.

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