Making schools safe

We all want our schools to be safe, but how do we do that?

This just caught my attention: There have been 40 school shootings this year that resulted in injuries or deaths, the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such incidents in 2018.

I was a teacher for 20 years, all of that time spent in an inner-city, Title I high school where sometimes things got tense. It’s not easy to remain calm in the face of danger, but as a teacher my job was to protect children and, when issues arose, I did what I was trained to do: lock the doors, keep the kids calm and quiet, remind them that we practiced for emergencies and all we had to do was follow protocol.

Luckily, at least in my experience, everyone headed home unharmed on those rare occasions when a situation got out of hand. Still, later I would often think of ways to make students safer at school and I settled on some relatively simple solutions. Note these ideas are not new, but together I believe they could make a big difference.

First, if I were in charge, I would insist that no students carry bags on campus, with just a couple of small exceptions. No backpacks or equipment bags or large purses allowed, period. I know what you’re thinking. Kids need their stuff to be successful students, but a quick peek inside many of those bags often revealed that children were not toting around possessions that were school-related. In my experience, text books, writing utensils, computers, and notebooks were rarely included in those bags. When you consider that many classrooms contained sets of textbooks for school use and students were often allowed to keep a copy at home, as well, why would students need those big bags? The same can be said of computers. Students could easily leave those laptops at home, because just about every classroom had desktop computers. (Note that I realize this is not the norm in every school.) In regard to taking notes, kids often typed on their phones, which slide easily into pockets, and even if students took pen-and-paper notes, a binder is easily carried.

You might be surprised to learn that most of the things students carry in their backpacks have nothing to do with school.

Those equipment bags athletes carry could be dropped off with the coaches at the beginning of the day, kept safely for practice after school. Since some students struggle with homelessness and mostly live out of their backpacks, perhaps some dedicated storage area in counseling could be used to house those bags throughout the school day. In regard to purses—yes, the girls would be horrified to be without their makeup—I’d allow the smallest of clutches, no more than eight-inches long and four-inches deep, for mascara, lipstick, eyeliner, and personal products.

Since the idea is to avoid a place to put contraband, there would also be no lockers at my school. Trying to monitor what’s in them is too time consuming, and if we just get rid of lockers, there’s no place to hide things that shouldn’t be on campus.

The next thing I’d do is make kids wear uniforms. Yes, I know children want to be individuals, but requiring a prescribed set of shirts, pants, and skirts is not such a horrible burden. One argument against uniforms is that they cost money. Well, so do regular clothes. Still, if a family is struggling, I’m sure a program could be instituted to get uniforms to those in need. Then, however, teachers and administrators must uphold the dress code. Teachers hate the idea, because they often end up being the fashion police which takes time out of the school day, but if everyone is on board, eventually the kids would fall in line. Having a set of dress-code standards would keep kids safe, because there would simply be no place to hide a weapon.

School Resource Officer Edward Toves works at Westview High School in Avondale, Arizona, but there just aren’t enough SROs to go around. (Faith Miller/Cronkite News)

Another thing I’d do is require students to participate in clubs, sports, and activities. The most dangerous time of day for kids is between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 pm, the time span between when school ends and adults return home from work. Exceptions could be made for children who must take care of young siblings or those with after-school jobs, but keeping the vast majority of students on campus and involved can prevent a lot of problems. Also, by requiring children to explore their interests, we might provide them with the social interaction that is lacking in many young lives, especially those of boys who are more prone to turn to violence.

I realize that many people feel having a school resource officer on campus is the answer to stopping school violence. While this program works well, it’s simply not practical. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, we are currently short 500 police officers. The city has 325 public schools and more than 200 private and charter schools. Do the math. There are simply not enough police officers to go around, a problem in cities and rural areas all over the country, which leaves the issue of safety up to districts and individual schools.

While no one policy can prevent school violence, I think we must consider any ideas that might help, because if we don’t do something the carnage will just continue.

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The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Available where you buy books.

What do I wish for? Good teeth!

I have rotten teeth. Which is nothing new. I remember being about ten-years-old when I returned home from the dentist, who worked out of his home just a few blocks away from my house.

“I have seven cavities,” I told my mom.

“What?” My mother placed both hands on her hips. “That’s from all that candy you eat!”

She was right, at least partially.

The next time I had a checkup, I needed even more fillings, which left my mother exasperated. “Well then, I’m not paying for any more Novocain! It’s seven dollars a shot! If you’re going to keep ruining your teeth, you can have those fillings drilled without it.”

Now you might think my mother was bluffing, but she wasn’t. Never again did she fork over money for anesthesia.

Today, I realize my terrible teeth aren’t all my fault.

“I just lost another tooth,” my 97-year-old mother complained recently. “I only have six left. These damned Irish teeth!”

Yep, it seems my ancestors from the Emerald Isle are noted for their bad teeth, since they are some of the least likely people in Europe to brush and floss and visit the dentist on a regular basis. Whether there’s a genetic component involved, I have no idea. But I feel I can at least partially blame my ancestry for the fact that I’ve put many dentists children through college and probably helped pay for a few vacation homes, as well.

I was a sportscaster in Rochester, New York when a dental procedure put me in an embarrassing situation.

All these years later, my teeth still suck. Just last week, I was sitting in a dentist’s chair, one half of my jaw propped open with a rubber brick while he excavated a 35-year-old root canal that had abscessed and needed to be gouged out of my jaw. Afterward, the dentist smiled and said, “This will hurt more than a regular root canal.”

I assured him that I’d be fine. But then the Novocain wore off and I started howling like a five-year-old with my hair on fire. If you’d walked up to my door and handed me some fentanyl you just bought in the street, I would have taken it instantly.

I stayed in bed, trying not to move, and kept thinking about other times my teeth were problematic. I admitted to myself that I once dated a guy because his brother was a dentist who treated me for free. (Try not to judge.) Another miserable time, I had all four of my wisdom teeth pulled in one sitting. Then there was the time in Rochester, New York where I worked as a sportscaster for WROC-TV. I had just left the dentist’s office where I’d undergone an apico. If you’ve never experienced that sade-esq procedure, let me explain. It’s called a root-end resection, because instead of drilling through the top of one’s tooth, the dentist cuts back the gums, drills a hole in the jaw, and digs out the infection. Trust me, it’s as awful as it sounds.

Afterward, I went to the local pharmacy, mouth all pumped up with Novocain. Back then, dentists doled out pain pills like they were M&Ms, so I was waiting for my prescription when I realized I’d had no breakfast. I purchased a container of yogurt and went out on the grassy hillside next door to wait for my medication.

Some people dream of nice cars or vacation homes. I dream of having good teeth, so clearly mine don’t at all resemble those above.

As I was eating, a woman walked by and did a doubletake. I smiled. She paused and nodded, but quickly departed. Then, it happened again. People would stare at me. Some smiled. Some didn’t. But, as I ate my yogurt, I was surprised that all these folks seemed to recognize me. It’s because I’m famous, I told myself. They see me on the news every night. As you can imagine, I was feeling rather jazzed. I hadn’t been in town that long and already the locals knew who I was.

But, when I approached the drugstore door, I realized I was wrong. I stood there, staring at my reflection in the glass. The lower half of my face was covered with yogurt. It dripped from my numbed-up jaw onto my shirt. I looked like a rabid animal, frothing at the mouth. Later that night, I anchored the news, even though I was on pain pills and appeared to have a golf ball lodged in my cheek.

All my life, perhaps understandably, I’ve been drawn to people who have perfect, straight white teeth, those who don’t need to have a dentist on speed dial or a trust fund to pay the subsequent bills.

Now, if you’re wondering if I still eat sweets, well, of course I do. Every day! All I can say is you pick your poison and I’ll pick mine.

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Should students control the reins in education?

When I read about the firing of organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr. I was saddened, though not terribly surprised. Jones spent over 40 years teaching at Princeton where, according to his retirement announcement, he garnerd outstanding reviews. He then returned to the classroom at New York University. Now, at 84, he’s been forced out because 80 of his 350 students decided his class was too hard.

Education has become a commodity and students are now in charge.

Note that I am probably completely biased, since I spent 20 years in the classroom, so you may take my comments in that context.

Once upon a time, teachers outlined what students were required to do in order to succeed and held them accountable. For the most part, students realized that teachers were doing their best to help them achieve their dreams. But then something changed. School became a commodity. It started with universities, where education was being doled out as if it were a business where “the customer is always right.” In a state like mine where students may choose where they want to study and where funds follow wherever they go, K12 education also became a service to be sold, which put students and parents in charge.

Don’t get me wrong. Families have every right to decided what institutions they want to patronize. I have no problem there. The issues arise when a student is not doing well and, instead of finding the root of the problem, the parents and administrators instantly blame the teacher. Let me say here that, yes, there are incompetent teachers. It’s a tough job—certainly the hardest I’ve ever had—and not everyone is cut out for it. Still, I have never met a teacher who didn’t have a yearning to help young people, which means with some targeted, extra training, struggling teachers might improve.

The vast majority of those who go into teaching want to help young people succeed.

Something else to consider is the fact that too many children come from disfunctional homes—certainly the case in my Title I school—and often they can’t remedy the issues that burden them. Teachers then become the next best target. Anger and disappointment in other areas of their lives switch on in the classroom, aimed especially at teachers who are considered “tough.”

Teachers like me.

Sometimes, my students called me harsh. Once, when I was a brand new teacher, an entire class simply walked out one day, leaving me in tears at the front of an empty room. (Not easy for me to mention that, but there you have it.) Why did they leave? I told them deadlines are important and that they must get their work in on time or their grades would suffer. Another time, after months of explaining that students needed to put their names on their work, I warned that if they neglected that requirement again, they’d fail the assignment. Four students ignored my request and, though I gave them extra work to make up for those zeros, they went to my administrator to complain. I was ordered to give them their credit back. What do you think that taught them?

While some students loved the rigor of my journalism classes, others despised me for holding them accountable. When I would try to calmly point out that I was only trying to help them be successful in life, I could see they didn’t believe me, which hurt. Eventually, I realized this attitude didn’t begin with the students. It came from the adults in their world.

As a former teacher, I can’t think of a more offensive statement.

In many countries, teaching is looked upon as a noble and respected profession. Here in the U.S., however, many believe the mantra, “Those who can’t do, teach.” (I will now warn you to never utter that expression in my presence, unless you’ve stepped into a classroom and taken charge at least once.) I cringe when I hear grownups, many decades out of school, say, “That teacher hated me!” Teachers don’t hate students. While it’s true some kids are more appealing and easier to work with than others—the same, of course, can be said of teachers—most of the educators I know buckle down and work overtime with kids who are more difficult. And yet this blame-the-teacher attitude trickled down to students and now these kids are out in the workforce.

Today, our businesses are struggling because they can’t hire enough competent workers. Just enter any restaurant, office, or store and you’ll see what I mean. Young people quit jobs in rapid succession, saying the work is too hard and too stressful. Or even worse, they agree to “quiet quitting,” the idea that one should do the least possible amount of work for the most pay. Can you see that the disdain once held for teachers has now shifted to business bosses?

There are way too many classrooms nationwide without teachers.

Can we fix this? I don’t know, but getting rid of the anti-teacher rhetoric that’s bouncing around would be a plus. Currently, it’s estimated that over 36,500 teaching positions remain unfilled nationwide. A little respect might go a long way toward bringing that number down.

I don’t know Professor Jones, but my heart breaks for him. He’s given his life to teaching and, I’m sure, was running his classroom the best way he knows how. And, even if you agree with his dismissal, bear in mind that organic chemistry is often a pre-requisite in most medical fields. So ask yourself, the next time you’re preparing to head into surgery, would you want a doctor who failed that course cutting into you?

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Available where you buy books

Dying of old age: What’s that mean?

Queen Elizabeth’s death certificate said she died of old age.

After much pomp and circumstance, Queen Elizabeth was laid to rest as the world watched. That she’d been up and dressed and looking fine two days prior to succumbing had some folks confused, but there she was, 48-hours earlier, in her cute little kilt, patten-leather pumps, and cardigan, welcoming new British Prime Minister Elizabeth Truss with a smile and a handshake.

That the Queen shuffled off this mortal coil so soon after welcoming the new PM seemed a bit odd. What did she die of, people wondered. It would be a few weeks later that the British coroner confirmed what carried her off. Right there on the death certificate it said “old age.”

But what’s that mean? According to the article “Natural Causes: What does it mean to die of old age” by Jeff Anderson,  “‘Old age’ is not truly a cause of death in and of itself. To ‘die of old age’ means that someone has died naturally from an ailment associated with aging. The same usually goes for ‘dying of natural causes.’”

No one can argue that Queen Elizabeth wasn’t old. Gosh, she was 96 when she died “peacefully.” (One wonders how doctors know someone died without a struggle. Perhaps she raged against the dying of the light. But that’s for another time.)

If you’re wondering, generally speaking one dies of old age following a long life, say anything over 80 years. But that doesn’t mean said elderly person didn’t have medical issues. Often, when someone is old, they suffer from multiple ailments, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and pneumonia which leaves the exact cause of death hard to pinpoint, so saying someone died of old age or natural causes clears up the problem of trying to identify which illness caused the fatal blow.

Also, perhaps, there’s the idea of protecting one’s privacy.

“The practice of ascribing a death to ‘natural causes’ lives on in the media and popular parlance,” Anderson wrote. “Because we are not doctors, we don’t necessarily need to know the details of a stranger’s last days. “Natural causes” suffices because clinical accuracy about an older person’s death is usually neither necessary nor desirable. In fact, detail beyond “natural causes” would be considered an undignified invasion of the privacy of the deceased and his or her loved ones.”

If I had my druthers, I’d chose death by falling meteor.

Certainly no one could ever accuse the Queen of being undignified. And she was such a private person, I wouldn’t be surprise if, prior to passing on, she issued a royal decree stating that she would die of natural causes.

Whether it’s better to be vague on cause of death or not is up for debate. But maybe, if one has lived a long life, they should be allowed to skip all the medical labels. I for one would love to be able to choose my cause of death. I’m thinking, when I am suitably old and have had enough adventures, that I’d like to meet my end when a big meteor plunges from the sky and hits me directly on the head. I would, hopefully, be vaporized, if only to avoid the subsequent mess.

Yep, death by a falling rock from space would be kind of cool, don’t you think? And, if I were queen, I would decree that my death certificate would say so: Cause of death: crushed by a meteorite.

I wonder if that would be considered natural causes?

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Available where you buy books