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Tom | December 16, 2012

The Flagpole


Flag-at-half-staff-smallBy Tom White

There’s a family at our school from the Ukraine. Each morning, the mom walks her five kids to our school, drops off the two oldest children at the flagpole and then walks back home with the three youngest. But before she leaves, she swings past my classroom to check on Alex. She looks through the window, catches his eye, and smiles. Then she waves to me and repeats the same procedure outside her other son’s room. She wants to make sure they made it safely into their classrooms. Later, when school’s over, she waits for her two oldest kids at the flagpole, and she smiles at me when she sees Alex. And I smile back.

The Ukrainian mom does not sign permission slips for her sons to go on field trips. She’s not comfortable with the idea of letting them leave the school, so she usually keeps them home on those days.

Last week, while I was collecting permission slips for an upcoming field trip, Alex asked to spend the day in his older brother’s classroom so that he wouldn’t have to stay home. I spoke with the other teacher to make the arrangements and we talked briefly about the family. We agreed that the Ukrainian mom was “over-protective.”

That’s right. We derisively called this wonderful mom “over-protective.”

This one got to me more than the others. Maybe it was the proximity to Christmas. Or maybe it was the age of the victims.

Or maybe this time we have to face the fact that we’re entirely unable to protect our most innocent and our most vulnerable from our most evil. And their weapons.

Like you, I’m supposed to go back to school tomorrow and talk to my students. I’m supposed to make them feel safe. I’m sure I’ll think of something. And we’ll get through the day, and then the week and then the year.

But I’ll tell you this: I have no idea what to say to the over-protective Ukrainian mom when I see her at the flagpole.

I’m not even sure I’ll be able to look her in the eye.



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Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed reading the post about flagpoles. Keep posting!

In case you're wondering, 24 of my 27 students showed up on Monday - including Alex. And yes, his mom peeked in on him in the morning and was there after school with a big smile.

Interestingly, a Filipino mom walked around our school Monday morning and made crosses on every classroom door with some holy oil that she had. I'm not familiar with that tradition, but I thought it was sweet.

The worst irony is that being overprotective doesn't protect the most innocent at all. The Sandy Hook principal was, one could say, overprotective. That protection couldn't stand up to an assault rifle.

I'm still trying to process the increasing wave of massacres our country is experiencing. I think we are doing more to redirect our country's path than we are aware of.

Every time we teach our students to trust their instincts, we're doing something. Every time we teach them empathy, we're doing something. Every time we teach them the skills they need to NOTICE, we're doing something. Every time we teach them to be independent, confident problem solvers we're doing something. Every time we vote for a politician that honors society's need for adequate and affordable healthcare, we're doing something.

All those somethings might add up to just enough. And they're not even tested!

Let's all be extra nice to each other this week. It's gonna be a tough one.

I had a hard enough time talking about this to my own son (2nd grader). There will be teachers like you all of over the country with classroomsful of very young kids hoping for an explanation that none of us have figured out ourselves. I know that whatever you do, Tom, it will be perfect.

So much to think about--thanks for sharing this.

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