I sat down in our staff room this morning and looked around. The handful of us with prep periods wonder when we’d get an email from the administration. Another teacher quotes an article they are reading on why arming teachers with weapons is a logical next step. Another ponders on why did he choose an elementary school. We sat in an unsteady silence, unsure of what the answers are. It feels wrong to be here now. It happened over 2,000 miles away, but just like that, my building isn’t as safe as I thought. I received some text messages last night from friends and educators checking in. Asking how I am doing, and what I’m feeling, even though I have no immediate connection to the events that unfolded in Uvalde, TX. I wasn’t there, didn’t know anyone there, and had never been there. Yet I and you are intimately tied to those events as educators.
The Washington Post’s gun violence database shows that since Columbine in 1999, over 554 school personnel and children have been killed or injured in school shootings in this country. 331 schools have been affected. Furthermore, they estimate that 311,000 schoolchildren have been affected or exposed to gun violence in that period. The question I keep coming back to remains: What are we doing to fix this?
In talking to friends last night, it hit me. The frequency in which this has affected our day-to-day operations in school. Do you know how many times a day the thought passes through my mind that a school shooting could happen here? The amount of plans I run through in my head of how to both barricade my classroom and get 25–30 kids out of harm’s way is staggering. The flood of anxiety that washes over me every time some student pops a plastic sandwich bag at lunch and the eerie silence that follows, as everyone waits to hear if there is a second report. The muscle memory reaction of grabbing keys, figuring out how to get the whiteboard and computer cart from across the class to my door to cover the large window in it. All while trying to keep calm in order to calm my students. All this flashes through my head in the span of a few seconds. When it turns out to be nothing, it takes me all day to shake that feeling.
During my student teaching, in my first placement, I was in a middle school. By the end of the first month, we went into a lockdown. I was in my prep period, but all teachers not in classrooms were tasked with sweeping the hallway and bathrooms around where we were to grab students and get them into a secured room. My cooperating teacher went one way, I went the other and we each found a student in the halls. Once we got back in the room, we turned out the lights, sat in the furthest corner from the door, and waited. She looked at me and told me to text my family. No explanation why “you should text your family.” I sent a text to my wife, brother, and parents. We were in that room for over an hour. The one thing I will never forget is the attitude of those students in the room. I asked if they were okay and they said something like “yeah, this is pretty normal”. A sixth-grader and a seventh-grader. Halfway through their education and they were normalized to the prospect of gun violence at school. To the possibility that they or someone they know could die at school. The lockdown ended and officers released each classroom one by one. We were told not to address it in our classrooms. We had a quick assembly the following morning and that was the end of it. The school year moved on as if nothing had happened at all.
What happened in Uvalde, TX is a tragedy. Innocent lives were taken for no reason. It is not an anomaly though. This has happened 27 times this year. The reality is, across the country, every single school, and every single educator is dealing with this in some way. We have a constant threat hanging over our heads. I realized last night that this is no longer a question of “if it can happen here”, but “when it does happen here”.
This isn’t a problem that can be solved with metal detectors, armed security, or armed teachers. There is a fundamental problem in this country with firearms. That must be addressed. Countless bills have been proposed and killed in Congress while our politicians — on both sides of the aisle — send hollow platitudes, their thoughts, and prayers, abhorrence at the devastation but balk at the follow-through needed. We are the only country where this happens regularly. We know how to begin to fix this. We have blueprints from other countries that have all but ended gun violence. This can be done. This must be done.
We must require more from our leaders and politicians because they have required too much of us educators. We are asked daily to be counselors, mental health professionals, custodial staff, glorified babysitters, medical staff, advisors, disciplinarians, curriculum developers, and grant writers, all while we are asked to teach students. We are asked to fund our own supplies and curriculum, and we are asked to work on our nights and weekends and the few weeks of summer we have between summer school and in-service weeks. We carry the entire weight of the education system on our back, day in and day out. We cannot be required to be the line of defense as well. We are teachers that have dedicated our lives to education, please don’t ask us to potentially give our lives for education as well.