“Do you want me to carry a gun?”
The controversial question I ask my students the day we return after the mid-winter break.
The responses vary each class block. Some kids, say “yes,” others giggle. Most shake their heads negatively.
Each of my four sections of sophomore-level Global History is distinct in their desire to discuss the layers of the school violence debate. One class is extremely quiet; another peppers me with questions. However, every group discusses weapons, existing laws, regulations in New York versus other states, lockdown drills, bullying, and mental health issues. These young people get that school violence is real, complicated, and layered. Like the student organizers in Parkland, Florida and across the country, my students are thoughtful, articulate, and honest.
One student says: “I am tired of rehearsing my death.” I press her to explain further. She says: “In every lockdown drill we hide in a corner.” I let her analysis lay there–the silence in the room is both respectful and appropriate.
During planning the next day, my phone sings a notification. The high school where my children will attend is dealing with a credible threat: a former student has notified others that he or she wanted to cause harm. That person is in custody. My children are safe. Their peers are unharmed. I take a deep breath and carry on with my day.
After dismissal, I walk toward the commons to advise the step team practice when I see my colleagues whispering to one another. I missed an email. There will be an early morning meeting tomorrow; our school is also dealing with a threat. By the end of the week, many schools in the Central New York area would report threats and investigations of alleged threats.
Near the end of practice, a few students ask me if the threat was real. Someone saw a message from the superintendent. One student asks me: “Mrs. Brown, do you support a walk out?” She is referring to the proposed day of action on April 20, 2018. I think of an appropriate answer and finally reply: “It needs to be for the right reasons. Your safety is what matters most to me. As a school, we need to discuss this issue.” She nods affirmatively and dances on.
A few seconds later, the team captain says: “People can’t just go around putting people’s heads in toilets and bullying others.” She has enormous compassion for the downtrodden. I mention to her that the step team has helped many kids feel a sense of belonging this year. We discuss why a human connection is so important.
The week progresses. On Thursday, my heavy teaching day, I do not know of events unfolding until my colleague pops into my classroom around 10 am, showing me the local news page on her laptop. My children’s school is on lockdown. Ammunition found in a student’s backpack. My heart sinks. My mind immediately goes to the conversation with my fourth-grade daughter the night before. She told me a classmate was worried to go to school on Wednesday because of the credible threat on Tuesday. I reassured my daughter, instructing her always to do what the teacher advises in any situation. She nods her head and smiles. Her love and respect for her teacher are apparent. From 10 am to 1 pm, I hope my words are enough for my youngest daughter.
My colleagues suggest that I go home, but I only have one more block to teach, and I know in a lockdown there is nothing I can do. I am a teacher, I understand drills and precautions, but when your children are in possible danger rationality erodes. My stomach was heavy. My last class, senior-level advanced placement, filled with students who know me well, sensed that something was wrong. I told them the facts as I knew them, keeping my cell phone close as they presented their research.
I am a teacher, I understand drills and precautions, but when your children are in possible danger rationality erodes. My stomach was heavy. Click To Tweet
By 1 pm, my husband tells me the lockdown has been lifted. I take a deep breath. I question whether to pick up the kids, especially my youngest but I want her to trust that the school handled everything as well as they could. I later learn that half of her class was picked-up, the parents needed to see their children. I don’t blame the parents. I have no issue with the school and the administration’s decisions. However, my daughter felt abandoned by her parents, she tells us later. They had hidden for approximately forty minutes, and she was extremely scared. For those moments, it was real to her. The experience drained her.
School violence fatigue is real. Click To Tweet
I have been exhausted since Columbine. Since April 20, 1999, the reality, the threats, and the fear of school and gun violence is a form of domestic terrorism. It will never happen here has been replaced with It could happen anywhere.
On Friday, Central New Yorkers awake to results of what the media has absurdly labeled a bomb cyclone. In Central New York, we know snow. We are the lake-effect snow capital of the world. Bomb cyclones don’t scare us. However, every school closed. It was like the universe gave us a reprieve. A reset button.
When teaching in a time of lockdowns, a break from the nagging worry is necessary. Teaching and learning during a time of lockdowns deplete resources and causes a biological fight or flight response. It is not simply an annoying fire drill, it is the possibility of blood on the whiteboard. Teachers act as loco parentis: “in place of the parent.” It is an enormous responsibility, which is now even more critical.
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