- Students across the country are not waiting for adults to make schools safe from gun violence, they are speaking up for themselves.
- Student activists still need support from educators and communities.
- Professional development and self care are critical for educators in their pursuit to stand behind students in their pursuit of safe schools.
My sixth-grade students were passionate about making a difference. These were kids who organized blood drives and clean-up committees. They didn’t hesitate to ask “Why?” or “Why not?”
So, when I see students across our nation organizing, marching, speaking at rallies, and meeting with lawmakers, all in an effort to keep their schools safe from gun violence, I am not surprised. I am grateful. I am encouraged. I am uplifted.
An old saying goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” These students have identified what they see as a serious problem: easy access to powerful weapons that have turned too many schools, churches, and other gathering places into killing grounds. They believe that politicians have been unwilling to take on the status quo. And these students do not buy the idea that arming educators—who enter our professions because they want to inspire, motivate, and connect with students, not to be armed guards—is the answer.
The students have taken it upon themselves to step up and lead (See “Signs of Change,”). They are not waiting to be told what to do. They are not asking for permission. They are not calling on the adults to speak for them. These students have one simple question: Why not?
This activism is about students speaking out for their own safety and for the security of their school communities, where learning and discovery take place. They are demanding the kind of learning environments that all students, regardless of where they live, deserve.
In this issue, we’re also focusing on individualized professional development—personal development. As educators, we need this to maintain our passion for what we do, and to stay in touch with the latest ideas for meeting our students’ needs. Professional development can be good for our own emotional health, too. What we do is rewarding but giving so much of ourselves is tough. Self-care is crucial.
Learning and development are always good for us, both personally and professionally, and these times literally scream out for it. When tragedy strikes our schools, we know students need our help to process what they’ve experienced. Professional development gives us additional resources for reaching out to them (and each other). But we don’t always know what challenges they face. As NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss told attendees at our Leadership Summit in Chicago last month, we should imagine our students’ carrying an extra backpack around, loaded with cares and concerns that we can’t see or imagine.
All I know is, I am proud so many students are finding their own voice. They are taking the lead. And we must do everything we can—including focusing on our own growth and development—to support them.
Lily Eskelsen García