It wasn’t long after the Parkland shooting that my own school was placed on lockdown. While SWAT and administrators worked quickly to neutralize an active shooter threat, we huddled in the dark for hours on a cold floor that was caked with a thin layer of Takis crumbs. Being my 5th year teaching at a public school in Texas, I had drilled for this type of scenario many times over.
We barricaded the doors, blacked out the windows, and spread ourselves along the floor. We text friends and family on our silenced smartphones, the lit up screens the only source of light. I prayed the same prayer over and over in my head, just a few simple words begging God to keep us all safe, to help me be brave if need be. I obsessed about whether or not bullets could pierce classroom walls, and if so, then how were we really safe locked inside?
We waited for hours. We were hungry, thirsty, and desperately had to pee by the time it was all over, BUT we were fortunate. The perpetrator’s violent intentions were never actualized, thanks to another student immediately reporting the rumored plan and the backpack full of ammo that was being bragged about. Stories like this are not unique, as they happen far too often across our country .
I can’t imagine how other school communities, where bullets and violence are unleashed and death is a reality feel when they eventually return to school. I cried for weeks and had nightmares for a month, and not a single shot was fired. The educators, students, and parents of those communities are heroes of a war they never asked to be a part of. It’s a war that none of us have enlisted for, and yet we drill, have meetings with emergency management teams, and are told that as teachers we must consider common sense bullet trajectories when assessing where to place students in our classrooms during an active shooter situation. Common sense bullet trajectories. I kid you not.
Absorbing the escalating arguments and finger pointing that surrounds these tragedies has been unreal to say the least. There have been many days that I’ve had to put my phone down and walk away, after seeing memes shared of guns and hateful phrases about the young adults that are raising their voices for reform. It breaks my heart and upsets me because such extremity shows a level of disregard for broken, grieving, traumatized people. It shows no empathy for the reasons that teachers and students are afraid of the terrorism that could happen at any given moment, on any given day at their school. It’s a further example of how we buckle down when we fear that change or reform means that we’ll lose something we value, rather than trying to understand that taking steps to create safer and more equitable lives for others actually benefits all of us.
It’s a known fact that most teachers in my city aren’t paid a high enough salary to afford to buy a home in the very community where we teach. However, we still buy most of our own school supplies. We buy food and snacks for our students, books for our classrooms, and hoard copy paper because we have limited supplies. Districts struggle to provide educational resources and adequate salaries, and yet the resources to potentially arm teachers is somehow a viable solution to gun violence on school campuses across America? I want to laugh off this idea as ridiculous and out of touch, but far too often what seems easy to dismiss as ridiculous becomes reality.
As teachers, we give our hearts to our students under the pressure and scrutiny of high stakes testing and increasingly bizarre accountability measures. Most of us teach despite these conditions, because we love building relationships with your kiddos and helping them achieve their goals. We chose teaching as a profession, NOT the armed forces. More guns won’t decrease violence on our school campuses, but I fear will only contribute to more senseless injury and death. If the solution to school violence is bullet shields and more guns, I’m not sure how I could stay in the classroom.
Education is sacred. Our schools should be fortresses of curiosity and inspiration, not military style drills and weaponized institutions, and definitely not pawns in the debate over 2nd amendment rights.