Veteran advice: ‘When they are at their worst, they need us to be our best’

Veteran advice: ‘When they are at their worst, they need us to be our best’

Well, the Royals are dying on the vine, unrealistic expectations for the Chiefs are blooming, and the seeds of Jayhawk football victory are being sown . . . wait until basketball season. It must be time for the best day of the year: The first day of school! 

This year I had the opportunity to attend a school convocation and it brought back so many good memories. The sight of students walking to their cars after morning weights, the sound of the diesel engines cranking, the touch of handshake and hug greetings, the sweetish smell of disinfectant and the taste of school lunch cinnamon rolls brought back memories going back over 50 years!

The first day is such a special day, ripe with anticipation and excitement. For most of our kids, this is reality – a great first day of school.

The convocation speaker was none other than KASB Risk Management Assistant Executive Director Rod Spangler. If you know Rod, you know he had the crowd laughing, but who knew an insurance guy could also have wise and poignant advice for a room full of educators? Rod’s advice relates to the hardest part of being an educator, “When they are at their worst, they need us at our best.”

And this statement caused me to think about those sights and sounds again. For some students, the sight of the building brings a sense of dread. The sound of voices brings back memories of teasing and bullying. The touch is an unfriendly push in the hall. The smell of the lunch room means sitting alone hoping no one notices at the same time you are hoping someone will join you. The taste is that of anxiety welling up from your stomach.

Kansas has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Across the country kids are killing themselves and each other. For me, it took a veteran talking about being belittled in school in the same context as combat experience to understand the seriousness of the trauma that some students endure. Members of my family suffer from trauma years after leaving our schools. Don’t just picture kids from poverty here folks, bullying – and the resultant depression, anxiety and trauma – doesn’t take the time to check parents’ bank accounts.

My wife likes to say, “Let’s stop admiring the problem and do something about it.” So, when I talked with her about the trauma kids inflict on each other, and said, “kids can be so mean.” Her answer wasn’t an acknowledgment, but a question, “So how can we help students understand what they are doing to each other, and the long-term effects?” Now isn’t that a great question?

Let me leave you with three thoughts for the best day of the year:

  • It is a great day and the vast majority of our students see it that way.
  • When they are at their worst, they need us at our best.
  • How can we help kids understand the hurt they are capable of inflicting?