“It’s quiet in the halls today.” A teacher speaks after a local threat.
School violence. Shootings. Children being taught to hide under desks, in closets. I’ve struggled with what to say. A friend of mine, a courageous teacher posted this today March 12th as she returned to school after the weekend. I can’t say it better or express the depth of pain and love that our teachers carry every day. So, not my words, but hers. Thank you for your courage, your love, and your dedication. She teaches just a few miles from me, from us, here in Midcoast Maine. I’m not touching one word:
“I went to work every day with an anxiety that throbbed dully somewhere around the back of my teeth. It had happened intermittently in the past, but became constant since Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I thought anything bad would happen at my school. We’re so small. We’re in a tiny city in Ma”ne, for heaven’s sake. But then I think they weren’t expecting violence in Parkland either. Or Sandy Hook. Or Columbine.
Today, my anxiety flashes from my gut to my fingertips. Over the weekend, my school received a direct threat from a 20-year-old former student who had dropped out. He used social media to declare he was going to shoot up my school. Some wise and brave current students found a way to record his Snapchat claim and reported him to the police. He was arrested and his house searched. Two large knives were found and confiscated, but no guns. The police do not believe he has access to any guns. A police officer assured me this morning that he would send his own teenagers to my school today if this was the school they attended. But the person who made the threat is not in jail; he is out on bail, and I find this disconcerting. He is prohibited from setting foot on school grounds – but if was willing to break the law and murder children while they studied The Constitution and the Pythagorean Theorem, why would he follow a bail condition like that?
When I was getting dressed this morning, I chose pants instead of a dress. My thought process was that I would be better able to move around in an emergency situation with pants on. I was focused on mobility, not lesson plans.
It’s quiet in the halls today. Attendance is down. When a door slams in the hallway, we jump. Was that a gun shot?
My school doesn’t have those fancy door stoppers that will not allow the door to be opened. We don’t have bullet proof shelters built into our classrooms, as in Oklahoma. I don’t even have a closet in which a single student could fit. When we get word on the overhead intercom (what if no one could GET to the intercom? How would we know?) that we’re in lockdown, we shut the shades, turn out the lights, pull the locked door closed, and huddle in the corner behind my desk. Well, as many students sit behind the desk as possible. One slides under the desk. Some sit on others’ laps. But there is still not room for us all. So the rest pack in tightly along the wall near the desk. The goal is to make the shooter(s) think that the room is empty. A former or current student intent on doing harm knows that the room isn’t empty. None of our rooms are ever empty.
On Wednesday, two days from now, students and staff have planned to participate in the national walk out to protest gun violence. Now we don't know if we are safe enough to do that: does gun violence await us on the outside?
I have always felt my chosen profession to carry great weight. What greater responsibility is there than teaching? It has been a burden I have shouldered willingly. With gravity and even a degree of self-satisfaction. What great work I do! Today the weight is almost too much. Almost. For it turns out there is a much more significant responsibility than teaching a child. Placing your body between your kids and a blazing gun may be the most significant responsibility of all. But I am here, after all, and when a student asks me to my face if I would lay down my life for him, I answer as honestly as I can: I think so. I hope so.
I don’t have the answer to the problem of gun violence in America. However, I am sure that there is not one answer. Stricter gun control must be enacted. Our mentally ill must be tended to. And it’s not victim blaming to say that students should be kind. We ALL should be kind. Students and teachers and grocery store clerks and doctors and mechanics. We should all show compassion, to everyone, not just our friends or the disenfranchised. We are human beings. We need to show humanity.
What I do know is that today, my hands shake and my heart beats faster in my chest. Today, I will let the students talk in class about their fears, and not ask them to focus on English Language Arts. Today, I have made sure to say “I love you” when I said good-bye.
Today, I could not be more proud, nor more scared, to be a teacher.”