I vividly recall walking into school to teach my students the day after Columbine. I had a pit in my stomach. They were scared and needed reassurance, so I lied to them and told them they were safe and what happened THERE could NEVER happen HERE. Many school shootings followed, but Sandy Hook leveled me. The children were so little and there were so many of them. It was my hometown and I had taught in the school district. The school day following, I broke down in front of my students and cried, no sobbed, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to protect them. Now my students swiftly and with precision help me move and stack all our desks and furniture in front of the classroom door during each and every lockdown drill. We barricade ourselves in and I have students put their backpacks on in front of their chests–maybe that will protect their vital organs I tell myself. We talk about escape routes. We talk about how we would throw backpacks, books–whatever we could get our hands on if, God-forbid, a shooter entered our classroom. I don’t lie to my students anymore. I want them to practice and be prepared. I want to give them the best chance possible to survive. Although I don’t anymore, for years after Sandy Hook I kept wasp spray under my desk. It shot 25 feet…maybe I could spray it in a shooter’s eyes and neutralize a threat, I thought. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but it gave me the smallest crumb of a feeling of agency. The school shootings have relentlessly continued. Parkland hit my students hard, so hard they staged a school walkout and made impassioned speeches.
And now Uvalde. The utter tragedy of Uvalde. Uvalde proved, once and for all, that the notion that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ is beyond absurd. Hell, nineteen good guys with guns didn’t stop one inexperienced teenager with a gun. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.
I started teaching right out of college and I have spent all but the first four years of my teaching career trying to normalize the reality that my students and I are targets that can die in our school. It’s not hyperbole. It’s reality. It’s time for us to put our political differences aside and enact national solutions. Something is better than nothing. Our children deserve better. Our educators deserve better. This isn’t inevitable. This is preventable. And as for the politicians on both sides of the aisle that put their reelections and campaign contributions above working hard to enact solution-based legislation to protect the people of our country–it’s time to vote them out of office. We’d get fired if we were that bad at our jobs and so should they.
The truth is, I would take a bullet to protect my students, but I shouldn’t have to. And I shouldn’t be expected to.