06/23/2015 10:05 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2016

Charleston Through a Teacher's Eyes

Teachers love summer. We live for the days when we get to read for pleasure and do not have to lug around bags of papers to grade, yet the second I heard about the tragedy in Charleston, SC, my classroom was the only place I wished to be. I wanted every single one of my students back to discuss this wildly unnerving and evil act of racism.

The thought of a young man being consumed with enough hate to take the lives of nine innocent people solely on the basis of race not only breaks my heart, but it makes me take a hard look in the mirror. I think about my job and what we as teachers are doing to have the hard discussions with our students.

There are times when standards and tests have to be tossed aside, even in a society when teachers are judged solely on test scores. Our allegiance has to be with the kids, and attention must to be paid to the heart as much as the mind. That's where I think our educational system is lacking. When teachers say "thesis statements" and "test" infinitely more times than "empathy," I can't help but feel our country is in a heap of trouble.

As educators, we can't pretend prejudice is only found in our history books. We also can't pretend our kids are going to hear about it anywhere else. We have to have the hard conversations sometimes because instances like Charleston should never happen, but when they do, society likes to brush it under the rug because it's much easier to do that than talk about what is truly going on.

When we ignore topics likes these, it shows some students that it truly isn't an issue and others that it isn't an issue to us. Both are just as dangerous. The kids want to talk about it. They have questions. They are confused. They have thoughts and feelings about it that need to be addressed in a controlled environment. It's a chance for adults to model how to talk about difficult subjects. I want my kids to know how to agree and disagree with respect and how not to turn to yelling and screaming when someone doesn't see what they see.

More than all of this, I want to instill empathy into the hearts of my students. I want them to not judge differences but to celebrate them. It's not about making everyone the same; it's about honoring the similarities and differences. It's crucial that we model this for kids, and if empathy is too much to ask, we must teach tolerance. They may not like each other, but they should at least respect one another. When we don't, we see what happens, and unfortunately it's happening like a bad movie on repeat.

My thoughts and prayers go out of the families of the victims. I hope that senseless acts like these open our country's eyes and make us realize there is serious work that needs to be done. Let's start with our kids. We have to enrich their hearts because it simply is the only way that we can unlock the shackles of prejudice and narrow-mindedness we have put on ourselves as a country. It can't be something we say we will do. All lives are too precious. It must stop now.

Throw out the syllabus for a day, teachers, and let's do our part in healing a wound that should have never been there in the first place.