personal reflections

I gave a teacher a hug today

I gave a teacher a hug today as I kissed my wife and she left for work this morning to teach a public school classroom of five- and six-year-old children.

The news coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre these past 72 hours broke our hearts with the tragic details of death in a public school. Schools are typically a sanctuary of safety in every community, regardless of the community’s issues outside the school grounds.

My wife Kelley and I have been credentialed public elementary school teachers since the early 1990s. She still works on the front lines of society in the trenches of a community public school. A teacher is an educator and a social worker, a child advocate and ‘in loco parentis’ guardian of numerous children during the school day.

Schools are one of the few places where nearly all children of a community come together without the barriers of socioeconomic class, religion, and ethnicity that otherwise tend to segregate our communities.

Many of us are deeply touched by and mourning the massacre of first grade school children and teaching staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Kelley and I spent the weekend listening to media coverage and talking about what this school week will be like; not in Newtown Connecticut, but here in California.

School site trauma is rare. Friday afternoon’s media coverage revealed many journalists were even ignorant of the fact that schools practice lockdown drills in addition to fire drills. School staff are trained with school lockdown drills to handle threatening situations. We pray that training never needs to be implemented.

Kelley and I have experienced several real lockdowns at public schools. These generally occur as a precaution when police are trying to apprehend an armed suspect in the community. Fortunately we have never been involved in a school related shooting.

Thinking back over our time in schools revealed times were not necessarily better in the past. Kelley’s past includes being a 6th grade student in Monterey County at a public school classroom with her teacher mother on a weekend when a teacher working in another classroom was violently assaulted and murdered.  The past couple of weeks I pieced together how I came to be in Hawaii in fall 1977 at the age of 17, rather than in high school for my senior year. I left high school during 11th grade. Gangs, guns and too much violence drove me out of high school in my pursuit of a better and safer environment. I live about five miles from my old high school and I think our community is a far safer place now than it was 35 years ago.

The media debate this past weekend has revolved around gun control, more school security and mental health services.

Placing more guns in school in the form of security guards or arming staff is a really bad idea in my opinion.

Child safety will be better served by having more school personnel to cover recesses and lunch and assist teachers in the classroom. More adults working with children rather than guarding children is the real essential need at most school sites to provide a better and safer learning environment for children.

I heard journalists suggest metal detectors at schools. Seriously?

My wife’s class could use more pencils, paper, textbooks, and disinfectant wipes to immediately improve school conditions for children.

Access to mental health services is one of the keys to dealing with troubled children before they become troubled adults. Typically a school and children at that school are faced with months coping with the situation of a disturbed and violent child, before the child is removed from a classroom or school to a more restrictive educational setting. School districts pay a large proportion of the expense to relocate a mentally disturbed child who walks into the public school system. My wife and I have both had students who were removed from traditional classroom settings due to violent behavior and it is usually a long-term battle with the school administration and/or parents to secure social services and a more appropriate placement for a child afflicted with mental health issues.

I recommend reading a piece published by Liza Long, ‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America via HuffPostParents.

How does Kelley as a kindergarten teacher comfort five and six year old children and assure parents and their kids that the children at her school are in a safe place?

Teachers carry on with the lessons of the day. Children learn their ABCs and math, and just as importantly as academics, children in school learn the daily social lessons of kindness, treat others nicely and fairly, share and help someone who needs assistance.

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Source: “ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN” by Robert Fulghum. See his web site at

I stopped by my wife’s classroom last Thursday on my way to San Francisco to do a quick photography project.

One of her kindergarten students asked me a question.

“Where have you been? On vacation?”

I replied, “That’s what your teacher says.”

Elementary school teacher is a tough job. Most people who try to teach as a career give up and move on after a few years. I moved on after ten years working as a public school teacher. Now I just try to help school children when and where I can as a volunteer.

Days in San Diego, Hawaii, San Francisco and Big Sur have kept me away from my wife’s classroom much of the past month. I’ll be pitching in this week at school to help wrap up the school week before the holiday break.

Teachers and children deserve the opportunity to have a safe and fulfilling learning environment in the community. We can all help meet that goal.

And tonight when Kelley returns home from her day in the classroom, I will give her another hug.

Nikon pets-cloudy day 038

“Yesterday’s Dream – Tomorrow’s Memory” – Lover’s Point, Pacific Grove, California


  • Raj December 17, 2012

    Great Article…

  • Stacy Smith December 17, 2012

    Very good article. Well written and appropriate

  • Amy December 17, 2012

    Wow. Excellent blog entry. From a fellow school teacher, thank you for your kind words. I love my students. I can’t imagine the pain those families, school personnel and community are experiencing.

  • Oliver December 17, 2012

    “How does Kelley as a kindergarten teacher comfort five and six year old children and assure parents and their kids that the children at her school are in a safe place?”

    I don’t know the answer to the first part, and the second part seems impossible to do. Statistically, the schools are a safe place. But that answer doesn’t really work.

    Excellent blog post. Best wishes for this week… and beyond.

  • Aeroman380 December 17, 2012

    Great post!

    You are right about only a few survive the early years!

  • TravelBloggerBuzz December 17, 2012

    Thank you, beautiful post!

  • jj December 18, 2012

    Thanks for a terrific post. I try to teach my kindergarten age child what is on that list with one addition:

    Be kind to someone today.

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