When I decided to quit my public-relations gig just six years out of college to become a high school English teacher, it was the best decision I could have made. That was 27 years ago, and teaching has been nothing short of challenging, inspiring, and rewarding.
It has also been frustrating and exhausting at times.
I decided to teach English for a few basic reasons: I loved reading and writing, and I enjoyed working with college interns as a PR mentor and with kids as a youth sports coach. To be sure, teaching came naturally, and I can honestly say that I still enjoy it — on most days.
The job has changed drastically over three decades. For one thing, teachers are no longer just teachers, as society’s ills have spilled increasingly into the classroom. At the same time, many kids have been enabled by helicopter parents and distracted by smart phones — two factors that complicate the already demanding task of motivating kids to learn.
My response has been to accept these changes and make them points of open discussion with students. A healthy dose of humor helps, too. In short, I still find ways to connect with kids. But it’s getting more difficult. Veteran teachers typically express their frustration by asking, “Is it me or is it the kids?”
Then something happens to restore a teacher’s faith. It could be a 12th-grade girl deliberately sitting with a 10th-grade girl who’s usually alone in the cafeteria. Or the boy who would rather sleep in class telling his classmate, “I actually like this book.” Or something on a much larger scale, like inspired teenagers organizing a march that attracts hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.
“Not one more,” explained the mission statement on the March For Our Lives website. “We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”
Students — many of them from Florida’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the horrific shooting in February — worked with nonprofits such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Courage to organize the event in Washington and the more than 800 related events nationwide.
Tyler Suarez, the nephew of Dawn Hochsprung, the school principal who was killed at Sandy Hook, organized the sibling event in Hartford.
“School safety should not be a political issue,” Suarez said. “There should not be two sides in ensuring the lives of our children. There’s not a left school or a right school. These are our children.”
The Hartford rally was mirrored by other student-led events across the state in East Haddam, Enfield, Guilford, Middlebury, Old Saybrook, Pawcatuck, Roxbury, Shelton, Stamford, and Westport.
March For Our Lives didn’t come without its critics. Although the event was organized to promote school-safety and stronger gun regulation, Scott Wilson, President of Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said, “I do think it is ironic that they are actually using their First Amendment rights to speak on behalf of eradicating our very own Second Amendment rights as well.”
But the kids aren’t backing down. Instead, they’re doubling down with the one threat that terrifies elected officials.
“If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking,” Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg said at the Washington march. “We’re going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We’re going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians but as Americans.”
Isabella Segall of Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence echoed the sentiment: “We’re teens. We’re here. We will vote. We are coming.”
It’s easy to complain about “kids these days.” Veteran teachers certainly do it. But March For Our Lives reminded me why I became a teacher in the first place. So thank you, teenagers, for restoring my faith in you — and, not incidentally, for restoring America’s faith in the future.
Barth Keck is a father of three and an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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