Ten questions for Kohl’s about this shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.


  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.



If this post made you think, regardless of how you feel about rude t-shirts, click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more or check out my teaching blog, www.elabraveandtrue.com.  Thanks for reading!


Active Shooter Training Day

“Now. Students. Go to your next class.”

Upon hearing those words, we teachers looked at each other, grinning at the awkwardness of the situation we suddenly found ourselves in: active shooter training.  Some of us whispered and tried to figure out which classroom would be nearest whenever we heard the “gunshots.” Some of us milled around in the hall, pretending to gossip with our “middle school” friends. Others were clearly anxious about what was to unfold in the coming moments, biting their lips and peering down the hall to the law enforcement officers who would be the “shooters” in just a moment.

Then the gunshots. One pop, then a pause, then three more. I shoved and scrambled to the health classroom. I felt someone nudging against my back, pushing me quickly into the room. It was a kindergarten teacher who taught in our district’s other building. I didn’t know her well; that would change.

We entered the room and pulled the door shut, clanking it hard against its metal frame. We ensured the door was locked and then looked for something to shove against it. The trainer had told us to do this even if the door opened out into the hallway, which it did. We maneuvered a 3- by 6-foot table up against the door. We had also been told to barricade with anything we could get our hands on. So we grabbed two standard-issue chairs, navy blue plastic and steel, and stacked them on top of the table. We clumsily tied a length of rope, which had been supplied in the room, around the hinge mechanism at the top of the door. This would supposedly make it difficult for the intruder to pull open. I looked toward the window, knowing that it could be an option. My co-worker spied a large swath of ripped paper on the counter, ran to the vacant teacher’s desk for a piece of Scotch tape, and taped it to the door’s large window. In the rush, she missed an edge, and it drooped down in the upper right-hand corner. “Can he see in through that?” she asked aloud, but there was no time to retrieve more tape.

The officer beat his fists against the door of the room across the hall. “Let me in. I’m here to kill yooouu!” he screamed. He tugged at the door handle then kicked the door violently. “Open up!”

We dove under the table and cowered.  The shooter’s footsteps approached. My partner and I both reached for the door handle and strained to pull hard. I closed my eyes tight and waited. He was here. He breathed heavily and banged on the door. We pulled harder. Then he yanked on the handle. “Gonna die!!!” he screamed. I stopped breathing, pressed my eyes closed, and buried my face in my co-worker’s shoulder, knowing it would soon be over, reminding myself it was only a drill.

The course was taught by a company that specializes in training people who work at schools, workplaces, churches, and malls with the knowledge and tools they need should they ever be faced with an active shooter. This company trains not only employees and staff, but also law enforcement officers and security guards. That morning in the school cafeteria, my teacher-friends and I had sat alongside many other men and women, in both uniforms and in civilian clothes. Some attendees were from local police departments, and some were from as far away as Oklahoma. Over the course of the morning, the officer had shown a Powerpoint presentation embedded with videos and charts to teach us about the history of school violence in the United States, common one- and multi-shooter scenarios that might arise, and approaches that are critical when the unthinkable happens. We listened. A few of us took notes. Many asked questions.

As the morning lecture wrapped up, an uncertainty arose in the back of my mind.  How would I react in a real situation? Would I know what to do? Would I keep my head and act quickly to get my students to safety? It’s easy to talk about it. It’s also easy to watch actors demonstrate effective procedures on a Smartboard screen, but in the hallways of a crowded school, how would I perform? And that’s what made the afternoon session so valuable.

The threat of school violence is a reality for educators. Thankfully, school districts do provide training that allows educators to be prepared and cope with the anxiety or worry that may arise.  Even though I think about school violence, I don’t dwell on it because the training and the drills we conduct during the school year have imbued me with self-confidence. Please know that it’s a wary sense of self-confidence, though. It was terrifying to hear those footsteps approaching the classroom door. However, confronting that terror and equipping myself with knowledge and experience in shooter scenarios enables me to continue doing the job for which I am trained and serving the students to whom I am dedicated.

The door to the health room held fast. My co-worker and I had secured it well enough. The “shooter” slammed his hand down hard on the handle, gave up, and stomped on down the hall to try the next door. We heard him yelling and tugging again. He finally ended the drill to speak in the calm, authoritative voice of a law enforcement officer.

“Good job, team. Good drill. Now. Let’s do it again.”

Trusting Your Gut: If It Looks Like a Dead Body, It Probably Is


Photo: Bureau of Land Management

When I lived in Tempe, Arizona, one night I think I might have witnessed someone loading a dead body into the trunk of their car. This was in 1991. It was around 10 at night and I was walking back from my boyfriend’s apartment across the street. My apartment complex was called Riviera Palms and it was actually a converted motel that consisted of three 1950s-era two-story brick buildings that were arranged into a “U” with a swimming pool in the middle.

That night, as I approached my apartment, I could see a car with an open trunk around the corner of my building. I lingered out of sight in front of my corner apartment’s door and watched two people lifting something wrapped in a white or a light-colored sheet between them into the trunk of the car. The two people struggled to lift the heavy load.

At the time, despite its cumbersome size and the fact that it really looked like a body, I still didn’t believe it could be a human inside the sheet. I rationalized that it could have been a couple of large dogs (still a very strange scenario) wrapped up due to the bulges and bumps that protruded from the sheet. Or maybe one of the people was moving from their apartment and this was the easiest way to get their kitchen appliances, their guitar, and a lamp into the car.

These ideas sound ridiculous now. Looking back, what else could it have been but a body? But, really? 

After they closed the door on the trunk, I turned away and quickly ducked back around the corner and into my apartment. And then, I assumed, they drove away. I got ready for bed, and drifted off to sleep. While dozing off, I reasoned that I probably hadn’t witnessed a crime. From a small, Midwestern Kansas town, I had not, up to that point anyway, experienced first-hand much of any serious physical violence. In fact, peering around the corner of my apartment building, I felt as if I was watching a movie or TV show like an old “Starsky and Hutch” episode. Things that happen on-screen don’t actually happen in real life, right?

I also, and perhaps more pragmatically, thought that it was simply too early at night for people to be sneaking dead bodies around. Tempe is a college town, and at 10 p.m. the streets are still busy with cars and people out in the cooler temperatures.

I went to work the next day. And the next. And the next. Occasionally, the episode would cross my mind and it wasn’t until a full month later, when I finally acknowledged my unforgivable failure: I should have reported what I saw that very night.

So I called the police. After listening to my story, the first thing the officer asked was, “Why didn’t you call sooner?” I told him I didn’t really know.

And I still don’t. It surprises me how quickly I was able to dismiss what I had seen. What if it was the culmination of a murder? What if upon leaving Riviera Palms that car then made a left onto Rural Road, and then continued out of Tempe into the deserts south of Phoenix, and then stopped at the end of a quiet, sandy road? What if those two people had earlier packed a shovel so they could dig a grave for the body?

My casual dismissal of what I witnessed causes me to wonder why I didn’t trust my first instincts. Why didn’t I immediately go with my gut feeling that I had seen a crime in progress? Why did I doubt myself? Would I still do that today?

Has the passage of twenty-three years imbued me with a confidence I lacked in my mid-20s? Or could it be simply that the advent of 911 emergency service has made reporting suspicious activity easier to do and more common now?

I’ll never know if I witnessed a crime or not that night. I hope I didn’t and all this retrospective analysis is for nothing. But it does make me wonder why some people, myself included obviously, automatically dismiss a danger signal as needless worry.

It reminds me of the phenomenon present in some school shootings when witnesses report their first response to hearing gunshots. Often they assume the sounds are something benign, such as a balloon popping or a textbook falling to the floor. Does this happen because they are unfamiliar with what gunshots sound like, much like I would be? Those people presumably aren’t attuned to the sounds of gunfire. Maybe that’s why I was so quick to dismiss what I saw on that warm Arizona night. Violence simply wasn’t a part of my prior experience.

Now I know the next time I find myself in an unknown experience — especially one that involves doubt and fear — I should trust my gut even if it feels wrong, silly, presumptuous, naive. That night, I could have truly been in the right place at the right time to help someone or provide a lead. Before ending the conversation, the police officer said there was really nothing he could do at that point, but he would make a note of my call. Too much time had passed, he added. He told me to call sooner if I ever saw anything suspicious again.

“Okay, I will,” I said, and then I hung up the phone.