February 18, 2018

A Teacher responds

Jennifer Gadd
Yesterday, after 17 people died at a school shooting in Florida, I stood in front of my middle school classrooms, hour after hour, reteaching the intruder drill procedures for my room. I wanted to reassure my kids that there was a plan in place if this thing that should be unthinkable, but which is now perfectly thinkable, should happen to them.
In my classroom, there are two doors to the hallway. One of them remains locked from the inside at all times. The other is the door students use to enter and leave class. It’s the only door I need to secure in the event of a lockdown. Both of these hallway doors have floor-to-ceiling windows to one side of them. That effectively means that I do not have a safe corner opposite a door anywhere in my room. All four corners are exposed.
What I do have, though, is a huge storage area with a locked door. It only locks from the outside. Let me repeat: IT ONLY LOCKS FROM THE OUTSIDE.
I reminded the kids of our plan. In the event of a lockdown, they will quickly and quietly come to the front of the room and raise the projector screen, open the closet door, and go in. I will be locking the hallway door while they do this. Then, I will retrieve the closet key from where I have it taped up for easy access, and I will lock them in the closet. I will then slide the key under the door to them.
Mostly the kids grew silent. Some started thinking hard. You could see it in their eyes. Others, being middle-schoolers, snickered and giggled and cracked jokes. Don’t be put off by them. It means they either just don’t get it, or that they’re so scared the only way they can deal with their fear is with gallows humor. They’re twelve, so cut them some slack.
One girl, this time, shouted across the room, “Shut up. This isn’t funny.” The room grew quiet.
Then the questions started. “Well, what if . . .” “But what if . . .” “How about if . . .”
I raised my hand for silence. “Here’s the deal, folks. Our school’s plan is designed to save as many lives as possible the best way we know how. It is not a guarantee that everyone survives. All those kids in Parkland did exactly what they were supposed to do. They did everything right. And seventeen people still died.”
It grew very, very quiet. I heard a lot of deep breaths around the room. One girl had tears in her eyes. Then another voice piped up.
“Wait, Miss.” she said, “If you lock us in the closet, doesn’t that mean you’ll be out here?” All thirteen pairs of eyes looked up at me.
“Yes,” I said, “and that’s why I need you to be absolutely silent in that closet, no matter what happens.”
“You would do that?” she pressed.
“In a heartbeat. Just stay quiet so you get out alive. Make it worth it.”
The thing, though, is that I’m not extraordinary. I’m not special. I have never met a teacher in my entire career who wouldn’t do the exact same thing. That’s not what this is about.
Here’s what I want you to understand. This is normal, everyday life in America’s schools. Students in every school, at every grade, are being educated on their responsibilities in preventing a massacre, things that the adults in their lives should be assuming the responsibility for, whose responsibility it truly is. And all the while the president is telling massacre survivors that maybe they could have done just a little bit more to prevent what had happened to them.
For an entire generation of American students, just living with this possibility that is increasingly feeling more and more like an eventuality is traumatic. Our kids are already traumatized by living like this, even if there is never a shooter in their building. Just as my generation was shaped by practicing getting under our desks in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack—another futile exercise—this generation is in trauma over the expectation that anywhere they go, whether it’s a concert, a mall, a restaurant, or their school, there is a good chance they’ll be murdered.
It has to stop. And spare me your Second-Amendment arguments. It’s all you’ve got. If you don’t have any other practical solution than MOAR GUNS, then you don’t get to participate in the conversation about what we do next to make this stop. If you, deep down in your heart of hearts, feel perfectly content to exercise your allegedly restraint-free right to bear arms on the backs, not of Revolutionary patriots of mythic proportion who fought and died for your freedom, but on the backs of children who are bleeding out in the hallways and cafeteria floors of U.S. schools, on the backs of their friends who watch helplessly as it happens, and on the backs of the teachers who are placing their very bodies in front of bullets for them, then shame on you. You don’t deserve those rights. Your right to own possessions of any kind is not and never will be greater than the rights of our children to live.
If you plan to respond to any of this, I suggest that you be careful how you do so. I am not sad, and I am not scared. I am ENRAGED.