I’m typing this from my phone, still sitting at my desk, trying to breathe through everything that happened this morning. Bear with me; I’m still sort of a mess.
I’m a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Well, not always. There was a point when I thought about being a veterinarian. Doesn’t every kid, though?
Anyhow, I’m a teacher. I went through five years of college, class after class on education theory and children’s psychology, and hours of in-class experience. I made a million lesson plans, typed what felt like a hundred papers, and gave dozens of presentations. I mean, I graduated with a 3.9, y’all. I was a good student!
But there are things college doesn’t prepare you for.
An unannounced active shooter drill is one of those things.
This morning, my students and I were having a writing lesson on the concept of Showing (Not Telling) Emotion. I had just finished my mini-lecture and had set a timer for their independent work. Eight minutes– It was only two problems. No sooner had I walked away than our secretary came over the intercom and said those two words that no teacher ever wants to be surprised with.
Our procedure is the same. We’ve practiced it once a month, every month since I started teaching four years ago. The students quickly and quietly go sit in the floor behind my big metal desk. Luckily, they all fit behind it, maybe a little cramped. I check the two doors, lock them if necessary, turn off the lights, and then go back into the corner to stand by them.
You see, I can’t sit with them. Even though I really want to. Even though I’ve got two girls in tears and the boys asking what’s going on. Even though I myself don’t know what’s happening because no one told me about a drill. I can’t sit.
Well, because I’m their defense. If that door flies open, if someone comes barging in, I’m supposed to protect them first. It almost makes me sick to think about again now. But that’s what’s going through my head as I slip my noisy lanyard off my head and my flip-flops off my feet (the less noise I make as I walk, the better). Am I terrified to throw myself at an intruder? Yes. Would I do it for them? Yes. Because these seventeen kids are my life.
Was that enough, though?
For a long time, we are all quiet, waiting to hear what’s happening. I don’t have answers for them. Can I text another teacher? Or my principal? My husband? About ten minutes pass, and I finally text someone.
Someone’s on the run from the cops in the area. This isn’t a drill.
Now I have a reason to be scared.
At first, I don’t tell the kids. There’s no reason to let them worry. I start texting everyone I can that might be able to give me some peace of mind. My teacher-friend down the hall. A parent of one of my kids (who is also a teacher in the building). My partner-teacher. My husband.
We sit in the floor for an entire hour. Eventually, I tell the kids what I know; maybe it will give them some reassurance. No, there’s not someone in the building. Yes, you’re safe. I’m right here. I won’t let anything happen.
Forget Covid. Forget six feet apart. Forget social distancing. Today, they needed hugs and back rubs and love. I gave them everything I had, because they’re my responsibility. There’s no time to worry when you’re in charge of them. No time to freak out about the sheriff’s officers banging on your outside door.
Was that enough, though?
Today, my worst nightmare came true. I saw my children scared of something we all hoped to never experience. I won’t preach about politics and gun laws. Shamefully, I don’t keep track of all that. Would things have gone differently if I was allowed to have a weapon in my classroom? Maybe; I really don’t know.
I’m so glad it wasn’t worse, truly. But what kind of world do we live in where I have to be afraid to teach? What went wrong?
To the parents of my kids: I would have done anything for them– even in the worse-case scenario. I loved them like they were my own today. I hope it was enough.
To my students: I’m so sorry that you had to sit through that. I hope being close to your friends made you feel somewhat better. I hope my hugs helped. I hope it was enough.
Today could have been really bad. Luckily, it wasn’t.
Pray for teachers and students everyday. We really need it.