Sunday, November 17, 2013

YA # 2 - Crises

In my second YA "Author" blog- I talk about crises, and how students' deal with them.  I do invite new readers to check some of my older blog entries, including my travel blog entries.

Today Rachel and I visited a holiday ice sculpture exhibit.  The manger scene is pictured above.  The entire exhibit was 8 degrees below Fahrenheit, and we were given parkas to borrow as part of our entry fee.  Ice needs help staying cool.  Many times, kids don't.  The more I work with children, the more I am amazed at their ability to stay calm in any crisis.

Students have a lot to deal with on a daily basis.  With school, family, after-school jobs, and other stresses constantly mounting, there is a real and valid question about what makes a "crisis".  In my last entry I noted how sometimes immature students seemed to have a "crisis" every week.  Yet, like all authors, when I start to picture my protagonist, I know that in order for the story to be interesting, she has to face some truly life-altering crises.  In my upcoming novel School of Deaths, Suzie is forced out of her home, physically assaulted, and suffers endless trials in a new environment where she is the only girl.  She encounters crises that many adults, including myself, would find totally overwhelming, but she often remains calm, at least on the surface.  This is what I've seen in my own students time and time again.

I've watched students as their parents got divorced.  I've seen students who lost a sibling to suicide.  For three years I taught in the homes of students too sick to attend school, many with terminal illnesses.  It was almost always the families who suffered the most, while the student approached their remaining time with a simple calm acknowledgement that this was their life.

This isn't to say that I haven't seen flare ups.  I have.  I've seen anger and frustration, and of course, I am just one teacher- and don't see everything that goes on in a students' life.  However, as I watch students today, in our media-soaked world, I wonder about how they process trauma and how they deal with it at all.

The most poignant and terrifying example of crisis I've seen and experienced occurred about two months ago.  As a teacher, in the back of my mind, far in the depths of that little unconscious area I don't want to acknowledge, are the realizations that events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and dozens of other school shootings are both a reality and a daily possibility.

I was in a rehearsal for our musical.  I was in charge of a dozen students in my classroom, and an additional 50 students who were working in the auditorium and the outside area behind the theatre.  It was our first day using any space outside, since we wanted platforms to dry in the sun.  I was in my classroom with the cast.

A student burst into my room, one of my kids from the auditorium, and said "Mr. M, there's a gun threat outside."  I instantly put my dozen kid into lockdown mode, then with my heart pounding I ran to the auditorium.  They'd already closed the outside door, so we quickly locked down the remaining ten doors, and I sat huddled with the students on a ramp, not knowing what was going on for fifteen minutes.  Most frightening of all was the knowledge that a dozen other kids were huddled in the darkened and locked back of my classroom.  As we sat here huddled in silence, someone started banging on one of the auditorium doors.  Every bang made my heart skip a beat.  Finally the banging stopped.  After the fifteen minutes, a janitor came in and told us it was over.  It was without a doubt the most frightening experience of my life.

We found out after the event that a girl had called her boyfriend (not a student) to come and shoot some of the members of the football team.  Whether or not there was ever an actual gun is still unclear (the authorities deny it), though I have five unrelated students in sports clubs who say that they saw one.  The sports teams all evacuated, and we went into lockdown, but the suspects fled.  I still do not know who banged on the auditorium doors.

Half an hour after this event had ended, I had a scheduled "drama parents' night".  It was a meeting to gain more support for parents in Drama.  I was a mess.  I was shaking, could barely talk, and had just got off the phone with Rachel (my fiancee).  I had been so scared.  It was my students who really stood out.  During the event they remained completely calm.  After it was over, they were laughing and smiling, as if nothing at all had happened.  I asked one girl how she could be so calm, and she said "It's over now- what's the point of thinking about it?  I just want some pizza."

That remark seemed so out of place at the time, yet to a teenager who can shoot strangers every night in video games, or watch the news about yet another actual shooting, maybe "crisis" means something different than it does to an adult....  


  1. Great post, Christopher. I'll be sharing. People who aren't in schools, need to know what it's like in "real life." As a former high school theatre arts teacher and elementary school principal, I have my share of scary tales to tell. Interesting how the kids were able to compartmentalize. For the most part, teenagers believe it will never happen to me--until it does or to one of their friends. As adults, we know it can happen to us and it's scarier. Good luck with the musical. What hard work, but how rewarding it is!

  2. Christopher, I'm starting to dislike reading your posts because they are so good! Not only well written, but truly make one think.

    I do want to say I'm sorry for your panic, don't wish that anyone. I'm wondering whether you (apparently) suffered more than the students as for them it was "each man for himself", and you were carrying the responsibility of 60+ students.