Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Teaching the Troubled Child

The educational community reeled this week from the news of the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. The lone gunman was a student some describe as “troubled” and a loner.

Many teachers can describe students they know as “troubled.” And any teacher can recount the frustration they feel on how to reach out to the student who doesn’t seem to fit in. I can only begin to imagine that any teacher who remembers having this gunman in their classroom is berating themselves this week, asking “How could I have helped more? What could I have done to make a difference in this young man’s life so this didn’t have to happen?” My heart goes out to the victims, their families and friends. Yet my heart bleeds for these teachers.

You see, teachers are not merely informers. We don’t just drill holes in kids’ heads and insert useful or trivial information. We are disciplers. We are mentors. We inform and inspire. As much as we may want to shape lives with knowledge and discovery, let’s face it. Our students will remember us for more than just what we said. They will remember us for what we did. They will remember if we took interest in them, if, as Nikki Giovanni said, we encouraged them that “we are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities.”

Yet the frustration comes when a conscientious teacher sees the warnings signs and tries to reach out to no avail. When Lucinda Roy, a professor at Virginia Tech saw the troubled writing of the gunman, she worked with him privately. She referred him for counseling. Yet it wasn’t enough.

I hope today Dr. Roy isn’t berating herself for not doing enough. As a teacher, under the confines of the system, she did what she could. Our students still have free will to make choices; our job is to offer them alternatives in their choices, to show the hurting and troubled child that there is a way out of the hole to live a productive and fulfilling life. This tragedy offers teachers, especially those in the church setting to reassess those they teach and to resolve to make an extra effort to put a virtual arm around the forgotten child. But once we’ve done that, we need to be content that we’ve been faithful to our educational call. While there will be heartaches, like the Virginia Tech murderer, there will also be successes. We may never know of them, but there will always be successes.


Crystal Miller said...

This is so insightful, but doesn't it make you wonder--what was he like in elementary school? Did he show behaviors then? How about high school? Or did he have a moment where he became more and more bizarre--alarming so many around him?

Anyway, where I live there was a high school student who was a sniper on interstate overpasses near me--and his principal and teachers were shocked. But, he had been in some troubles before and this wasn't just out of the blue. As teachers we just know in our "gut" when things aren't right, but we want to believe the best.

So sad. So sad. Thanks for speaking to this topic.

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...

Karen, excellent post. You've made some great points here and have helped me think of this tragedy from the teachers' viewpoint.

It's such a horrible tragedy. We'll never be able to understand it, but maybe we can all learn from it so we can know how to prevent it from ever happening again.