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Monday, December 17, 2012

Thinking about teaching: Students come first

I am a teacher.

I do not spend all day with the young people of this state as I also am an editor at the New Haven Register.

But I also am a teacher.

Since 2008, I have been an adjunct instructor at Southern Connecticut State University. It is my honor to be part of the highly-devoted and professional team of educators who help hatch the new generation of the Fourth Estate.

Working very closely with students is part of what this department does and part of what I do. We have been delighted at the Register to work with a number of SCSU interns over the years.

We are all deeply mourning in the state of Connecticut and Southern this week also is grieving its own: Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and teachers Anne Marie Murphy and Victoria Soto have direct connections to the university.

These educators gave their lives to protect those they loved: the students.

It is an issue I have thought about before, given the amount of time I spend in a classroom.

That’s does not mean I do not feel safe on the SCSU campus. I do. I have never felt otherwise. 

I have known SCSU Police Chief Joseph Dooley for 20 years and he is a pro. Moreover, I know how much he cares; when I was the victim of a crime many years ago, he was the Orange police detective who handled it. I know safety is a priority for the SCSU police department.

But as gunmen repeatedly teach us that no place is immune from becoming a target, I have over the years as a teacher considered what I would do if I were faced with such unimaginable terror. It has to run through the minds of every person who works in a classroom.

It is not an easy thing to consider. No one has ever pointed a gun at me.

But in thinking about the responsibility we owe young people, don’t we owe them concern about their safety along with doing our best to make sure they learn?

In classrooms I have taught in, I have thought about where exits are and what a good route of escape would be. I have thought about how quickly students would be able to leave a building. I have thought about where they could hide.

 I like that doors are kept locked when no one is in a room.

I have thought about the need to call 911 and while students typically are not permitted to use cell phones in my class, I do not require them to be turned off.

I subscribe to the SCSU emergency alerts. The staff really does them and they are helpful and topical.

These thoughts do no preoccupy me. I am instead preoccupied with the amazing students I teach semester after semester; the joy of being in a classroom, the experience of helping them to grow.

Yet, I also have thought about confronting an intruder. I simply do not know what I would do, even though I hope I would act as a leader. Would anyone know?

The teachers and leaders at Sandy Hook elementary school knew.


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