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It Started Like Any Other Day At School

by Lynn Lucas McLean

Issues in Education: From an American Perspective

The summer before the Columbine shootings, I worked as a middle school AP. We had an opening for a French teacher; there were plenty of applicants, so we scheduled a full day of interviews.

One promising candidate asked an odd question as we finished up. She asked where her classroom would be if she were hired. Of course we couldn’t say “Oh you will spend your entire teaching career in room 100.” But she persisted. We talked a bit longer, until the real question came out. She wondered how close her room would be to an exterior door. Her husband was a violent man. They were separating. She was worried. Back then we didn’t lock all the doors the way we do now. But that woman’s story raised the hairs in the back of my neck. We couldn’t hire her. We couldn’t put our school at risk, no matter how fine a teacher she may have been.

Examples such as this highlight the vulnerability of our schools – and students – to outside dangers. Crisis planning – involving FBI agents and psychologists – have become the norm in many educational institutions across the United States. These agencies and experts teach educators how to watch the loners, the kids preoccupied with violence, those who were bullied.  Crisis teams are put into place, emergency plans are assembled and lock downs/evacuations are practised.

The lock down drills always give me the creeps. It was my job to walk the building during the drill and be sure that no child could be seen or heard from the hallways. The same hallways that, on any other day, would be buzzing with activity.

A long-time teacher once asked me if I ever thought of wearing a bulletproof vest. Another day, I learned that my name topped a hit list drawn up by a tragically troubled child…a child who took his own life at a young, young age. I sat with parents who feared violence at the hands of their own children. I sat with parents and police, when we knew that the parents had done horrible things. I met fathers fresh out of prison. I calmed hysterical mothers, at the end of their rope. I stood face to face with rage.

Grad school didn’t teach me to handle these situations.But hear this. Hear it plain and loud and clear.

My experience is not unique.

At each and every school, teachers and principals face a microcosm of our culture every day. It is hopeful and horrifying all at once. On Friday, December 14th, little children in Newtown, Connecticut woke up with joy and went into classrooms with teachers who loved them. Now, their parents are reeling with grief as officials piece together what on earth has happened.

Barrack Obama spoke with a catch in his voice. Many voices are calling for gun control. There will surely be some outcry about the state of education in general, and who knows what else. Some parents will debate whether to public schools are “safe” enough for their children.

Instead of creating an “us” vs. “them” atmosphere when it comes to laying blame and moving forward, let’s say a prayer for the innocent lives lost, for families everywhere that are doing the best they can, and for the folks in the school down the street from where you live – who are doing the best that they can to both educate and protect our future.

How have you handled the discussion of this most recent school shooting in your classroom? Has this tragic example served as a springboard for powerful discussion with your students? How so?



Lynn McLean has enjoyed a rich and varied career in education. Beginning as a special education teacher, she worked with K-12 students with learning disabilities, emotional impairments, and cognitive impairments. After fourteen years in the classroom, Lynn became a consultant for special education, with special emphasis on inclusive educational programming for students with disabilities.

 Lynn served as a school administrator for seven years at the elementary and middle school levels. Areas of special emphasis included peer mediation, choice theory and classroom management, and pre-referral intervention.

 In 2003, Lynn relocated to Pennsylvania and assumed a position as Associate Director for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation agency. Lynn specialized in working with public, nonpublic, and charter high schools during her years with Middle States.

 Lynn received her Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction from The University of Michigan, and earned her Master of Arts and Education Specialist Degrees at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Subsequently, Lynn completed coursework toward the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Education Leadership. 


Featured photo credit: Shannon Hicks of the Newtown Bee

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  • neil

    Thanks for your perspective on this tragic issue from within the American border, Lynn. My intermediate students seemed more angry than worried. It was as if they became instant advocates for change and resolution and legitimately want to make our world a better place. Difficult discussions often breed bold ideas and forge new pathways about the world and our place in it. I am thankful to be in a position to hear, firsthand, what students think when a terrible event such as this occurs – but even more appreciative to hopefully be a part of the change (through my mentoring and guiding role as the teacher in the classroom).

    I wonder how other teachers have approached the discussions of this shooting with their students and if they found the same “anger” from their students.