School Climate & Safety Opinion

An El Paso Teacher’s Pledge: I Will Help My Students Through Their Fear

After the racist massacre, this school year feels different
By Christina Mier — August 14, 2019 3 min read
In El Paso, Texas, children of a youth sports community attend a vigil for the victims of the recent mass shooting.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In my classroom hangs a poster that says, “Share Similarities ~ Celebrate Differences.” The poster was my first purchase as a new teacher, and it fits perfectly with our classroom environment that salutes diversity. Throughout the years, students of various backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and races have come through my door into a welcoming community of learners who transform a physical room into a safe haven.

My culturally rich classroom is just one part of a dynamic elementary campus that serves a predominately Hispanic community—a vibrant neighborhood where everyone comes together as friends and family to help each other. Together, we reside and work in the heart of a city that, until Aug. 3, 2019, was known as one of the “10 Safest Metro Cities in America”: El Paso, Texas.

The killer may have known El Paso's demographics, but he did not know the community's heart."

On that day, our El Paso community was attacked by an outsider who chose to drive more than 600 miles across Texas specifically to massacre Hispanics at a Walmart. Where we saw neighbors and families shopping for school supplies, he saw invaders. He did not see the beloved grandfather or the supportive parents fundraising for their daughters’ sports team. Twenty-two individuals were killed, and many more injured.

This attack has left me and my community heartbroken. In one tragic instant, El Paso’s story changed forever. It now has another reference attached to its name: “One of the 10 Worst Mass Shootings in Recent American History.” The killer may have known El Paso’s demographics, but he did not know the community’s heart. He didn’t know that the elderly endearingly call you “mijo” and “mija” even if you are a stranger, or that we tend to hug as we say hello and goodbye. He did not know that our local police officers treat people with dignity and respect, and that this is reciprocated. He miscalculated; we value our diversity and find strength in it. From blood drives to community prayer vigils to #ElPasoStrong, we have come together.

A poster saluting diversity hangs in Christina Mier's classroom.

This week, I am welcoming my students back to school. I always feel total joy to begin a new school year, but this time it is different. Before our first day back, a friend casually asked me, “So, are you ready to hit the ground running?” This normally innocuous figure of speech conjured a different image for me: In an instant, I saw in my mind the terror-filled videos of people running away from a shooter. I am positive that my students have seen similar images. It will undoubtedly be a challenge to make my kids feel totally confident about being safe in my care.

So, I have been revising my instructional planning. Even before receiving an official district plan, my colleagues and I began compiling resources to help our kids work through fear. Books For Littles provides a list of suggested picture books to help talk about gun violence with children. Useful websites like the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress have also offered tips on how to restore a sense of safety after a tragic mass shooting. Even with these resources at hand, I feel most grateful that my campus has a full-time counselor and a full-time social worker on staff to support our student community.

The security of my students is of utmost importance to me, but so is the positive development of their character. In this sense, I am granted a rich opportunity as their teacher to create a safe and accepting space where they can grow in empathy, can understand that words matter, and can learn that choices can have consequences.

This has always been important, but now more so than ever. Just like in my classroom, norms are being set in classrooms across our country by dedicated educators. Hateful words and actions are not tolerated. Mockery and marginalization of one another are not accepted, and encouragement is given for students to speak up when they see wrongdoing.

Society depends on us. In these troubling times, we cannot look away. Racist massacres like the one in my community should not continue to happen. The divisive, hateful rhetoric needs to stop, from the highest levels of leadership to the youngest child in our homes and classrooms. We can be better. We can all instead choose to “Share Similarities ~ Celebrate Differences.”

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Devious Lick' TikTok Trend Creates Chaos in Schools Nationwide
Shattered mirrors, missing soap dispensers, and broken toilets in school bathrooms have been linked to the "devious lick" challenge.
Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
2 min read
At the new Rising Hill Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo., gender neutral student bathrooms have a common sink area for washing and individual, locking, toilet stalls that can be used by boys or girls. Principal Kate Place gave a tour of the facilities on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. The school is in the North Kansas City school district.
A gender neutral student bathroom.
Keith Myers/The Kansas City Star via AP
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.