My turn

Massacre stirs memories for former teacher

2013-01-03T00:00:00Z Massacre stirs memories for former teacherGeorge Grenchik Times Columnist
January 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It makes you stop and think. But when you have been in the business for more than four decades, it makes you think a little deeper.

I’m referring to the insanity that happened at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. What a tragic and perplexing ordeal.

In my long tenure in the classroom, nothing has come close to that kind of tragedy. And nothing really that gave me cause to fear for my own or the children’s safety. But there was a time that could have turned out differently.

Back in the days when you didn’t have to be buzzed in to school, and when the doors were seldom locked, we did have an uninvited stranger visit St. Victor School in Calumet City where I taught for 34 years.

I don't remember all the details, but a man, maybe early middle-aged, was told to leave the church hall, which served as the school lunchroom. It seems that he just wandered in while the younger kids were eating and wanted something to eat himself.

I encountered him as he was coming back to school. Actually, he was already in school in the first floor corridor. I inquired as to what he wanted and he said it was time for lunch

It became apparent to me that this grown man was to some degree of diminished mental capacity. I told him that lunch was over and he seemed childishly disappointed. I said something to the effect that he would have to go home.

I do remember at that point of being a little worried as to how he would react to not getting what he wanted, but he just seemed sad as I walked him out of the building.

The folks working the lunchroom had already contacted the police. And I remember seeing them talking with the stranger who wanted lunch as he traveled on foot east on Wilson Avenue.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this little episode could have had a different and appalling end.

You never know.

I also remember, quite a few years after that incident, having a discussion with my eighth-graders after the school killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. I asked how many of them thought something like that could happen here. I was a little surprised by the response. Quickly, most hands were raised.

You never know.

The earlier incident I related to happened a long time ago. And it’s been a while now since Columbine. But there certainly have been too many incidents of school and work place slaughters since.

As always after one of these disasters, all kinds of ideas are floated about as how best to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring again. The hope is now that the horrific nature of the Sandy Hook School massacre will lead to a continued discussion until steps are taken to deal with the insane number of weapons in our society and the way we deal with those among us who are mentally ill.

In the meantime, I don’t think we can afford to raise a generation of school age children who live in suspicion and fear of everyone they don’t know personally in the name of keeping them safe. We have enough fearful and paranoid people as it is.

And arming teachers? Really? I was never afraid for my safety in school for all my 41-plus years of teaching. But if all my colleagues over the years would have been packing ... different story.

As one of my old kids (folks I’ve taught) said on a Facebook thread I started on the subject, Mr. G, you’re one of the last people I’d like to see armed.

Have a happy and peaceful new year.

Thanks for reading.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. George Grenchik is a longtime Calumet City resident and retired instructor at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond. He can be reached at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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