Being a Teacher in the land of School Shootings

Disclaimer: The opinions in this post are my own.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether I wanted to post this. Mostly because this tragedy is not about me. But I have a few things I’d like to say as a teacher in the United States this morning.

First, I have never been in an active shooter situation. I have, however, been in a school on lockdown because there was a man with a gun on campus. I was working in an intermediate school in North Carolina. I was teaching 6th grade math and science. I loved my job. I loved my kids. Someone decided to rob the bank around the corner from the school, demanding his booty at gunpoint. Our grounds provided a hiding space for him. We went into lockdown mode, knowing that if he wanted to take hostages, we had a school full of kids that would be easy to take. It was the most terrifying day of teaching I’ve ever had. I spent the rest of the day worried about the windows and doors. My classroom was right beside a fire exit and our doors were glass. They were reinforced, but not bullet proof. If he’d have really wanted in the school, my room was the closest option.

My background is a little different for a teacher. I’ve worked for a couple different law enforcement agencies. I’ve been trained in active shooter situations. I know how to look for the safe spaces and how to identify threats. I’ve taken emergency first aid classes that, theoretically, prepare me to ensure a gunshot victim can survive long enough to get EMS there. It’s information I hope I never need, but seems more pertinent to have now then it ever was in my former jobs. And that’s sad considering the places I went and the situations I walked into in the past.

Until this month, I’ve been a long-term substitute. In the fall, I’ll have my own room and my own class plans. But for the past several years, I’ve been in someone else’s space when I taught. Every semester, sometimes more than once, my classroom has changed. The first thing I do when I walk into a new room, is figure out what I would do in an emergency. This past semester was easy. I was teaching photography so I had a dark room. A large enough room to put all my teenagers inside with a door that locked. A concrete room that was near impenetrable. I shouldn’t have to know that. I should have been able to look at this awesome dark room and see only a room for developing art. I shouldn’t have seen a safe space.

My school is probably the safest school in all of America. We’re an enrichment program for homeschoolers. Everyone that is there is there because they want to be. When a problem between students arises, the administration and the teachers are on top of it. I know this because my own son attends my school and has had issues with other students. Not many, but enough to know how the other adults respond. I’ve seen the care we give our kids, from the kid’s standpoint. But even knowing that, even knowing in my heart that none of my kids would EVER be a problem, I am prepared. Because schools have become targets whether the gunman goes to the school or not.

Yesterday, an 18 year old walked into a building full of babies and took 21 lives. It was an elementary school. Whatever the 18 year old’s connection was to that building, he was not a current student. The threat was not from within. The outcome was the same. There are 19 babies, kids not old enough to even be in band or sports, that will not go home again. This has become the reality of school. When the news hit my feed, I started to cry. My son asked me what was wrong and, through the tears, I told him. He took my hand and cuddled up next to me. “Don’t worry, Momma, I won’t ever go to public school.” He’s right. He won’t. Because he’s old enough that, if it ever became an issue, I’d just give him his GED and he wouldn’t be forced to go. But the fact that his comforting words were an assurance that he wouldn’t find himself in public school says a lot about how insanely screwed up our country is right now.

It’s time to stop calling teachers heroes because they’re willing to put our lives on the line for our students and make sure they don’t have to be. It’s time to start protecting our kids, because they shouldn’t have to fear becoming a gunshot victim by going to a place we literally, by law, have to send them. I’m lucky. I don’t have to send my kid to public school. But I am not representative of the norm. If I didn’t have so much help from my parents, my son would be in the midst of the trauma too. In fact, the high school he’d be in was a school shooting site within the past school year. Our kids should get to be kids. And it’s our responsibility, as the adults, to make sure that can happen. We have to do better.