DALLAS TWP. – Elementary school pictures of now-notorious adults appeared on the screen, including Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Conn., shooter; Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine shooters, and James Holms, the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting suspect.
Teacher Education professor Joseph Rogan asked a simple question.
Which of these kids is going to grow up and be a murderer?
It was a grim but pertinent question for the students attending the first session of a new class at Misericordia University called Methods and Management/Emotional Support. The enrollees are studying to be future elementary or special-education teachers, positions that perhaps will afford them the opportunity to spot and help children with emotional or mental problems that otherwise might mushroom into tragedy.
The university expanded a one-credit course to a three-credit requirement for all would-be elementary and special-education teachers. The goal was to give Rogan enough time to cover the complexities of recognizing and helping students in early grades.
He cited one argument that by fourth or fifth grade, we are who we will become.
One of the many messages Rogan offered during the first session: 2 to 4 percent of students at some point end up classified as seriously emotionally disturbed. And the trick is to avoid the old habit of shunting off such students for discipline and detention, and instead helping them deal with problems so they can return to more normal settings.
But Rogan asked far more questions in his first class than he answered. What did all the recent mass shooters have in common? If you think a student has a problem, what do you do? If you talk to the student and he tells you more than you're ready to hear, how do you react?
Rogan recounted his days teaching emotional-support classes when he asked a student about a problem. She said her father raped her last night, Rogan recalled. What do I do? If you ask a student ‘What's up?' they might tell you. And then what?
Students were quick to note that the emotional problems discussed were far worse than they themselves realized, and that one thing they could do to change that would be to raise awareness through efforts such as forming a new club or meeting with area schools' Parent Teacher Associations.
After the class, junior Holly Welsh of Berwick said she thought it will be very eye-opening, because it would expose the students to the depth of problems that are often overlooked. Classmate Kaylene Lessard of Reading agreed, calling the first session a bit overwhelming, but predicting it will be valuable experience in entering the teaching profession.