Labor Voices: Oxford tragedy compounds breaking point for educators, students

For students and educators alike, we’re at a breaking point.

That was already clear from conversations I’ve had across Michigan these past few months. Now, add last Tuesday’s tragic shooting at Oakland County’s Oxford High School and its immense weight to that already heavy load.

"The American Teacher" by Art of Al Abbazia

In Oxford, we lost four young people to senseless violence. Several others were severely injured — and hundreds more students and educators will cope with the fallout from last week’s horrifying events for the rest of their lives.

In the days following, dozens of schools and districts shut down because of “copycat” threats that law enforcement rightly took seriously to keep students and school employees safe.

The feelings of fear and a shattered sense of safety are raw.

So too is the feeling of desperation.

Over the past week, I’ve repeatedly seen an illustration shared online of “The American Teacher” — bearing the weight of violence, COVID, distance learning, budget cuts, economic uncertainty, evaluation and testing, to name but a few. Those same weights are felt by our students as well.

A picture is worth a thousand words — and that one sums up how this latest trauma compounds so many others. 

Schools are grappling with the pandemic’s toll on students’ learning, behavior, social-emotional connections and mental health.

They’re juggling ever-changing pandemic health trends mixed with crippling educator shortages that yield bigger class sizes and less preparation time.

Students are judged by standardized test scores that do little more than identify poverty, while their teachers’ job performance is winnowed down by a bureaucratic, punitive evaluation system.

Now, add in the crushing awareness of another school shooting that could have happened anywhere and claimed lives of those we love. It’s another episode in a growing mountain of school violence that will likely spur short-term outrage — and long-term inaction.

Students and the educators who serve them cannot take any more.

Three years ago, on the heels of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, I wrote in this column, “If you’re still reading this and you aren’t furious, I’m not quite sure what else to say.”

Today we still long for a world where innocent lives aren’t lost in our schools.

We must ensure our schools have the mental health supports necessary to help prevent tragedies from happening, and we must enact common-sense gun reform so weapons aren’t readily available, especially to those in distress.

We must dismiss the fallacy already being promoted by some that more guns in schools will make anyone safer. To think an educator could or should fire on a student amid the chaos of violence is utter nonsense and lays waste to the nurturing role of teachers and classrooms.

We must stand united to address all these issues weighing on students and educators. There are recent beacons of hope: a safe and effective vaccine for children and adults, massive federal student loan forgiveness for educators, historic investment in Michigan’s public schools.

Much work remains to get students the needed academic, social and emotional intervention, to address the educator shortage and to value the true worth of students and educators beyond a test score or evaluation rating.

And, while the pain and bloodshed at Oxford High School is fresh in our hearts and minds, let’s start by sustaining our collective will to take real steps toward greater school safety — and to band together to support the Oxford community in this unimaginable time.

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12 thoughts on “Labor Voices: Oxford tragedy compounds breaking point for educators, students

  1. Thank you for your skillful words. This is heartbreaking on so many levels. As Michigan alum, a university professor, and a fellow human, I stand with you.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. Your love and heartfelt comments are very much appreciated. This has been the most stressful school year ever. Now that the unthinkable has happened in Oxford, it’s difficult to come to school. School staff and students are on edge. To go along with all the other things this year, I am now watching my kids every movement and praying to God that we stay safe. The month of June seems like thousands of years away. I stand with you in solidarity and in your support for our Oxford friends. I’m praying for major changes.

  3. The Oxford school shooting is indeed a tragedy. What compounds it is the notion that keeps being proposed by the union and liberals that “common-sense gun reform” is the answer. You statement that “an educator firing on a student (who would be an active shooter!) is utter nonsense and lays waste to the nurturing role of teachers and classrooms” is insulting and stupid. Willing teachers who are armed would fill a dual role as an educator and protector of the students they are entrusted to. As a Marine and an educator I have witnessed the security provided to individuals in violent situations by armed “good guys”. Students are smart enough to understand the dual role concept of educators because they already experience it, just at a lesser “unarmed” magnitude.
    The posture expressed by The MEA in this editorial is one reason I chose to opt out of union membership. The unions liberal stances do not represent the views of many teachers and in this case in particular promote a view that continues to leave students and staff vulnerable to those desiring to do them violence.

  4. The student : counselor ratio in Michigan is 671 students to 1 counselor. Second only to Arizona from the bottom. We expect those counselors to help students schedule their high school classes, get into colleges, apply for college scholarships. In their spare time they can intervene with problems between students, between students and teachers, and between students and their families. We are failing our students in this very difficult time in our society. They need all the support we can give them.

  5. So true is the statement… “Its another episode in a growing mountain of school violence that will likely spur short-term outrage – and long- term inaction.” Unfortunately, this is the day and age we live in.
    After Volunteering at Parkland, I have prayed no school would ever live their nightmare.

  6. To quote a line from a popular song, back in my day, “When will we ever learn?” Standardized tests only stress out students and teachers, while telling no one anything about what has and has not beel learned and retained. CCSS violates all the research in regards to brain development in the brains of children in preK-3rd grades. The incidence of children hating school, stressed out, mentally ill and suffering from ADHD is higher than ever before. We have literally caused the brain wave patterns in our littles children to be altered. What kind of person, honestly thinks, that prek and kinders can sit in their seats for hours a day? They need to do their learning by being active, through imaginative play. Social skills need to be the first thing tought by sharing, being kind to others, by cooperative interaction with their same aged peers. Expecting them to learn to add and subtract, write paragraphs when they haven’t even learned one to one corrospondence and the letters and their sounds of the alphabet, is ludicris and causes anxiety in a setting that should be fun.

  7. My daughter a school counselor, was in tears over the stress of working with children who have so much pain in their lives. She had fears for her own students.

  8. I am a children’s advocate and in that regard a natural teacher’s advocate. I am a retired children’s protective services worker. Among teacher’s many roles is that of mandated reporter. Had the shooter in this case had a broken arm or some kind of wound, if the parents had refused to take him home that day, the teacher would have been required to report. His mental health condition was no different. The teachers’ responsibility to report is not mitigated by a report to administration. If a teacher reports to administration, but administration chooses not to do anything, teachers are still required to report to CPS. I say this to protect other teachers who may be in the same situation.

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