Everyone Is A First Responder

In the spring of 1999 I was working at an adjudicated youth rehabilitation facility in Boulder, Montana.  The details are long lost into the vacuum of my forgotten memory but on the afternoon April 20th, a beautiful spring day in Montana I first learned of Columbine High School.  The 13 killed that day would soon be surpassed at Virginia Tech, and Newtown and the many other places now synonymous with young lives brutally extinguished by the unstable with far too easy access to firearms.  

At Columbine the police waited hours to respond till the gunmen were located and the SWAT team was ready to sweep the school, the standard procedure for SWAT scenario up to that point, victims bled to death waiting.  As a result law enforcement adopted a policy that all available officers would respond immediately to kill the gun, without waiting for backup.

At Virginia Tech, students and teachers who barricaded classrooms or hid from the gunman survived.  Classrooms where the gunman was able to gain access saw the majority of those killed. As a result policy was changed again to instruct teachers to barricade classrooms, hide students and wait for the police to come and eliminate the threat, which usually was under 10 minutes.  

Combat Medicine trauma wraps are designed to fill wounds and are coated in chemicals that promote blotting, several are located in my office desk.

At the Newtown Elementary School students who hid from the gunman and were found died.  Teachers and students who ran from the gunman lived. Policy was changed to instruct students to run if they could, barricade and hide if they couldn’t, and fight if they had to.  Two years ago, all teachers in the school district I teach in were required to spend a day long training in which the “Run, Lock, Fight” responses were explained, practiced and simulated.  

This week, the New Yorker magazine published an article about the changing nature of mass casualty first response in medicine.  Tournaquits, once seen as barbaric measures that cost victims limbs are now seen as the best response to gunshots to limbs. Wounds to the body proper are now treated with dressings coated in chemicals that promote blood clotting (my trainer referred to them as “Israeli battle dressings”).  Teachers are taught to be able to lock their doors within seconds or to keep them locked at all times. Many teachers have cans of wasp spray strategically placed around their classroom to spray at intruders and disable them.

The door is always locked, at the first sign of trouble, a student or I can rip it off and secure the classroom,

I must admit that I rarely enter a room or building without noticing the exits and thinking quickly and quietly what I would do, where I would hide, if there was a sudden explosion of violence from a gunman.  The chances this is going to happen to me are still small, but maybe I’ll be ready.

Also, as a gun owner myself.  I should say that I would gladly wait weeks, months and years till I could purchase a new firearm or a used firearm while my mental health, criminal record, weapon storage situation, and firearm training was evaluated.  I have never needed a gun immediately and think these common sense evaluations would save thousands of lives a year.

Welcome to teaching in twenty first century America.  

Montana

Lion Mountain Trailhead, Whitefish, Montana

From 2002 to 2004 I taught at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax City, Virginia. Though I only lived a few miles from the school the commute was ridiculously long. I was a first year teacher, exhausted and anxious, that long half hour on the way too and from school would allow my idle mind to race into all the catastrophic nightmares I could conjure. Often I would think back to my time in Montana. In Montana you could always substitute your personal worries to worrying about the weather, wild land forest fires, large mammal attack, drowning, or being caught in a shootout with some outlaw biker gang or white aryan nation battalion.

Oh, Montana, thank you for giving me a life worth living.

Anticipation

According to a 2010 psychological study about the connection between anticipation and happiness that was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it. The authors of the study, researchers from the Netherlands, interviewed 1,530 people, including 974 vacationers, and found that the vacationers felt most happy before their trips.

Prepping, Planning and getting excited.

Maybe

I’ve been teaching high school since the fall of 2002. I suppose teaching is the only career I’m going to have. I’m a mediocre teacher. Strictly junior varsity. On good days, I think I can explain things in a way most seventeen and eighteen-year-olds understand. I lecture too much, grade too little, don’t plan enough, tell too many stories.

I used to be so certain about teaching. I thought I was changing the world. But the world goes on without me and my students.  Forces much larger are at play. I get depressed when I read the utter stupidity displayed in my local paper’s letters to the editor. I dread the day I realize some former student is the author of some ignorant screed.

Some former students have been wildly successful or moved into lives that are admirable, and impressive.  Students have graduated from challenging schools, moved a world away, started families, taken over ranches, and made me proud that I know them.  I’m not naive enough to think I have anything to do with their success. Certainly, teachers can help, but we are such a small process in the equation that includes parents and inner drive.  

Last year a student attacked me and my teaching in an anonymous letter I found left on my desk. It devastated me. It’s been hard to forget when every time a student sighs, rolls their eyes or snickers under their breath, I remember that letter.  It’s made me question everything I do, and don’t do. I thought this year would be the year that I dedicated myself to the passionate energy and brilliance I had when I began. I had an image of all the best practices I would adopt, all the lives I would inspire.  The truth is on a good day I’m lucky to walk out of school feeling like I’ve made any difference.

Down the hall is the classroom of a junior AP literature teacher.  He coaches policy debate and he often tells me what their debate topic is and I spit out some ideas supporting and attacking the prompt.  Sometimes it is on a topic I know a lot about. Periodically he asks me to visit with his debaters and give them my take on a topic. I enjoy it, it’s usually an interesting topic that can be turned over lots of different ways.  It’s fun to watch the kids wrestle with these hard issues.

Two days ago he told me that I was being awarded a “Friend of Forensics” award for my work with his team.  Tonight they gave me the award. I struggle with praise, but it was nice to hear his kind words. It’s been hard to look other teachers in the eye this year, maybe this will make it easier.  

As I sat listening to the debate team award ceremony I looked around and so many of the students I teach.  Many of these students are students who compete with for my Model UN team, many are involved in my We The People Constitutional Debate team.  Both of these groups performed extremely well for me this year. Maybe I am doing better, maybe I am changing lives. Maybe these kids are naturally talented.  Maybe they are lucky. Maybe I’m lucky.

It’s hard to say.  As the Stoics teach we know not when it’s all over.  We should live our lives knowing that we might not get another shot.  Maybe it’s all going to come together.

Sonder

“Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.” —from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C.

“The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything From Happening at Once”


Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

X. J. Kennedy
Corolla, North Carolina

Break Time

Above Hole In The Wall, Glacier National Park, Montana

In the past seven days, Whitefish has been covered with two feet of snow. As I’m sipping my coffee and starting the day the temperature stands at -6. I see another long boring treadmill run in my future. On days like this, let your mind turn to planning, and dreaming of the future. Allow your thoughts, the same consciousness that is the engine of thoughts filled negativity and darkness, to breath the promise of something different, something better.

Summer is coming, with every day the sun hesitates before setting. Soon our concerns will not be about how warm to dress but if the smoke from wildfires has made it unsafe to be outside. All things pass. Dream for summer adventures, stir dreams for future insight, dream for better days. Unfold those maps, let your fingers trace the countries of future memories.

Advance permits for backcountry backpacking in Glacier National Park can be submitted starting March 15.

The Anxious Wait

Members of the Flathead Sheriff Mounted Posse wait nervously as a protest march led by thousands of Whitefish residents begins. Citizens demanded the tarring and feathering of infamous WF resident Richard Spencer, a reduction in water rates, affordable housing for the underpaid and overworked service industry workers, the creation of two elementary schools to bring relief to the overcrowded Muldown School, an explanation of what that creepy guy who wears latex gloves at Safeway is talking about and a $15 dollar per day per person tax for Canadian at Whitefish City Beach. Wait….my bad, a view from the Whitefish Winter Carnival Parade.

5 Podcasts I Listen To, and You Should Too

Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana
  1. Making Sense with Sam Harris–Sam Harris, neuroscientist, atheism apologist, philosopher, meditation promoter and thought provoker has done more to change my life than almost anyone else in the world right now.  The guest in this show is always challenging and interesting,  Harriss’ book on Lying has been a huge influence on me as well.  A word of caution,  Harris has an extremely slow voice.  I have to speed up the playback to stay sane.  The app Overcast is what I listen to podcasts on and playback speed one of the many easy to use adjustments this app allows.
North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana

2. Brian Lamb, the founder of CSPAN is a hero of mine for reasons I’m not going to bore you with. But his podcast, Q&A-CSPAN with Brian Lamb has been my favorite podcast since I first started listening to a decade ago. Authors, policymakers, lots of names you know, some you don’t, always interesting. If you want to learn the art of a good interview takes notes on Lamb’s style. He never overshadows his guest, asks the questions most ego-driven media types wouldn’t and allows the subject to answer fully and completely.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

World Professional Cycling Championships, Richmond, Virginia

3. The Daily Stoic Short and always hitting that sweet spot. Need to center yourself right before you start your workday? Stoicism is all the rage right now, but no wonder, it is a game changer. Hosted by Ryan Holiday, the man who brought stoicism to Silicon Valley and hipster America dispels a daily dose of wisdom to get your thinking and acting.

Rodeo, Lewistown, Montana

4. The Art of Manliness–Damn, do I loathe the name of this podcast. Hate. The content, however, is great. Interesting authors, ideas and skills are discussed with a good host with good questions. If you can get past the works name for a podcast ever. Try it.

Cabin Life, Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana

5. The Cult of Pedagogy podcast–if you teach then this is a great podcast to gain new insight into trends, ideas, strategies, and other useful teaching tools. I’ve tried to listen to one of these a week which has resulted in lots of cool experiments in my classroom…with some very mixed results.

Lots more Podcasts to talk about, but give one of these a listen.