Where Do We Go From Here?
The teacher hiring season is underway. Jobs are being posted and hiring conferences held, resumes polished and model lessons planned.
Between January and April, jobs in education will open up and schools will work hard to fill those spots with the right teacher—one who believes in the mission of the school and who hopefully feels passionate about education.
Last month, I attended a teacher hiring conference where I interviewed with three different schools. Although I had been a bit reluctant to return to education, I found myself increasingly excited about the prospect of diving back into my career.
Meeting with other educators who feel passionate about teaching and talking about my educational philosophy lit a fire beneath me.
I left the conference feeling jazzed about my prospects and excited for what the future held for my career.
And then on Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz, a 19 year old kid, walked into his former school and opened fire with an AK-15 and killed 17 teachers and students.
I was close to graduating high school when the Columbine school shooting happened. We were all shocked and terrified by the news.
This was the first time in any of our memories that students had turned on their classmates and murdered them in cold blood. It would not be the last.
Not even 20 years after Columbine, there have been 208 recorded school shootings, including Sandy Hook, a school in Connecticut where 20 first graders—six and seven years old—were killed by Adam Lanza.
Running through the list of shootings, I realized I had barely heard of most of them. I also realized that this massive list does not include victims of shootings in other places like the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 or 2016’s Florida club shooting.
Growing up, we had fire drills in school. They were always sort of fun. Yay, class is disrupted! Woohoo, we get to go outside for a little bit. Awesome. But that was it.
I remember my mom telling stories about having bomb drills where she would have to cower under her desk at school during the Cold War. Fire drills seemed much easier to deal with.
At the first school I taught at, we had a required amount of fire drills during the school year, as most schools do. Towards the end of my time there, we started having one or two lockdown drills, where the whole school had to head to the gymnasium, a prospect that sounds terrifying now, like rounding kids up in one place to die.
At my second school, we had lock in drills. During those drills, I would have to close my window shade and the shade on my door, lock the door, get all the kids down on the floor under the whiteboard and just wait. We had a laminated paper that was green on one side and red on the other. From my memory, we had to turn it to green once all the kids were safely accounted for.
We also had evacuation drills in case of a bomb scenario. We would silently usher all of the kids outside, as far out on the athletic fields as we could get where they would line up with their advisors. Like most middle school kids, my students treated this as a joke and we would constantly have to reprimand them.
During these drills, once I counted my advisees, I would look around at the rest of the school, all lined up in advisee groups on the field. The first group allowed to be dismissed were the 3 year olds. That’s right, the tiny preschoolers, in their first year of school, ushered out of their safe, happy classroom to practice for a bomb alert. I never asked the preschool teacher how she explained what was happening to them. I wish I had.
Because my daughter is three.
How do I explain to her that school can be a terrifying place? Not because the work is hard or kids might bully her, but because someone might come into a place that should be safe and shoot her.
How do I explain to her that mommy’s job is not just to teach history to middle and high schoolers but to potentially put her own body between someone with a gun and her students?
How do I explain why assault rifles are still sold or why people with serious mental disorders are able to buy guns? How do I explain that we are one of very few countries in the world that face an epidemic of mass shootings, mostly caused by our own people? How do I explain that our government seems very willing to offer “thoughts and prayers” but nothing else in way of action?
I have no idea where to even start.
I moved to Manhattan after college, two years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. For 10 years, New York City was my home. For most of that time, I commuted to my school by subway twice a day. I had a daily moment of panic when the subway passed under 34th and 42nd streets, spots I was sure would eventually come under terrorist attack. Every morning I lived in fear during that short commute. In the afternoons, I felt more assured, because I figured an attack would take place during rush hours. When I moved to Pennsylvania and drove to work, I remember breathing a sigh of relief that I would never have to deal with that fear again.
I’m not back in a classroom yet, but am hoping to be this fall. Will I be overcome with daily fear again, this time lasting all day, that this will be the day someone comes to school with a gun?
I not only have myself to worry over, but my two children who will be in school too. Will I always remember to hold them tightly before the day begins in case this is the last day?
No one should have to live like that. Of all the careers to pursue, teaching is hardly one that should be considered dangerous. Sending your children off to school should not be frightening either. None of this is right. None of this is how it should be.
I have no solutions. For whatever reasons, guns are more important in this country than the lives of children, perhaps because our founding fathers made such a point of stating that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
But it is time for change. It’s time to ban assault rifles. It’s time to have stringent gun sale laws. It’s time to look at other countries and how they have responded to mass shootings to eliminate gun violence. It’s time to let our voices be heard so our students and teachers aren’t silenced in another deadly tragedy. Let’s ride this wave of terror and turn it into positive change.
As Parkland survivor, Emma Gonzalez, said in her stirring speech, let’s make sure Parkland is “the last mass shooting” in this country.