I remember being in eighth grade sitting in Mr. Rodgers’ social studies class watching a high school student about my brothers age get rescued from a window during the chaos that ensued from the Columbine shooting. I can still feel the emotions swelling as I raced home from where bus 162b dropped me and three boys off to call my mom and make sure her middle school friend Mrs. Avis didn’t teach science at that high school in a feeble attempt to process the magnitude of what I saw that day.
She did not teach at Columbine High School. She was safe. But many were not. We were all changed in some way through that day and the impact resonates deeply to this day.
The next day at school I will never forget sitting in Mr. Lindsay’s science class with no windows, no way out other than the way in. It’s the first time I know I made a plan. A plan of what to do if someone walked through that classroom door and started shooting.
I was twelve years old.
Twelve years old.
Mr. Lindsay told us the next morning, “If anything happens, my plan is to throw this table up against the door and stand in front of whatever comes at me. I’ve lived a lot longer than y’all and you deserve a chance at the years of life ahead of you.”
He had two kids about our age, one in our school building. Floored, I thought he seemed insane for making that statement.
And then, I became a teacher.
Through my ten years in the classroom I found myself setting up shop in seven different classrooms. Every time I move into a new classroom I spend hours arranging furniture, setting up tables and mastering a flow to maximize learning. But one thing always sits in the back of my mind, “How would I keep my students safe if it happened here?”
Mr. Lindsay doesn’t seem so much like a zany eighth grade science teacher anymore. He just seems like a teacher.
In all of the scenarios I play out in my mind, I know I would instinctively do anything to protect my students and their precious lives. I believe most teachers would. It is who we are as a collective.
After Sandy Hook, the first school shooting at an elementary school in my tenure in education, I read accounts of what happened. Instead of my own experience in middle school, high school or college playing out, I saw my students in the stories. I knew those headlines without knowing them. I saw those kinds of faces each day. I heard giggles and horrible jokes that mimicked the videos splattered on the news of children who were gunned down. It shook me in a deep way.
I refuse to live in fear, but I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought about the possibility of a shooting becoming my reality. In my mind, there’s the plan we practice as a drill and the ten other ways I know I could work to keep everyone safe.
Could I deescalate an active shooter? Could I leverage a relationship with a hard student if their trauma manifested on that scope? Can I intervene in elementary school to surround a child with love, support, services and interventions so that it never gets to the point of a headline racing across screens? What if the face on the screen some day is the face of a child who walked through my hall or my door? What if I’m missing a sign or a trigger? What does it feel like to know in hindsight? How can I help now? All of these are questions that rushed my brain this week instead of sleeping.
I do all of this and yet my actual job is to teach young people to love to learn, to read with a deep understanding, to develop their voice as a writer, to add and subtract with regrouping to the thousands place. I’m responsible for equipping them with the academic, social and emotional foundations to propel them forward in life.
Our world is full of trauma. Our world is full of brokenness. I pray constantly, but enough all ready. We also must act. Prayers and thoughts alone are empty.
Let’s pass common sense gun control laws.
And if you’re elected officials won’t address gun control, use your vote.
Let’s fund services that wrap around families, schools, and communities to support mental health.
Let’s intervene early.
Instead of pouring copious amounts of money into lobbying this savagely life-ending and life-shattering issue away without any actual change, what if we poured that money into developing children into peaceful whole individuals?
I pray that I never find myself or my community in the situation the community of Parkland, Florida and Majory Stoneman Douglas High School only began to face Wednesday afternoon. But I can’t guarantee that.
Twelve year old me watched that guarantee slip away.
I pray that enough is finally enough. I pray that between concerts, church services, elementary schools, nightclubs, restaurants, high schools, movie theatres, baseball fields with congressional leaders, college campuses, offices, middle schools, and sporting events we can decide, enough.
Children should not live in fear of our door being locked. Children should not sit with me at recess on February 15th and ask me, “Why?” with tear-stained cheeks . Children should not be faced with having to make a plan for how to escape.
This should not be normal.
This should be appalling and egregious.
You may get to move on. But the families, friends, peers, teachers – the ones who stepped over fallen bloodied friends and colleagues – moving on for them will not happen like it will for you and me. They’ve been forever changed. We should all be forever changed.
This should lead to action and reform. But I fear it won’t. I fear for the masses this news will drop from the headlines. Adults and leaders will move on, not knowing the day to day ramifications of the powder keg possibly awaiting the next hallway.
For the majority of us the thoughts, anger, sadness, and shock will fade. Maybe not completely, but in part. Until the next headline announcing the same scenario pops up. We will pray and offer our thoughts. It’ll fade again and continue to repeat.
But what if you faced the AR-15?
What if your teacher friend sacrificed themselves unlocking the door and ushering in students to safety like Scott Beigel the geography teacher?
What if your sister or brother or mother or father became the face of a tragedy?
What if you’re the final parent waiting on the sidewalk amidst the chaos when the last bus of those evacuated empties and you’re still alone?
Would you want change?
Would that be enough?
Let’s be different this time. Let’s work together to ensure change. Let’s do something this time.
Ways to get involved:
- Moms Demand Action (Kind of like Moms Against Drunk Driving but for Gun Control)
- Contact your state and national legislators to demand gun control.
- Mentor a kid.