I am a school teacher *
This morning I left home and, for the first time, I really thought about the fact that my life may end with a bullet.
That’s rather blunt. And it may sound dramatic. Teachers are certainly not anywhere near danger as a police officer or firefighter, but it appears that it has become a vocation where the risk is more than zero.
This is a funny sort of feeling. I can’t quite articulate it. On one hand, why should teachers be any different? I mean, shootings happen at garlic festivals, Walmarts, and Congressional baseball games.
A few years ago my back-to-school thoughts were centered on how I could reach out to students, how I could connect with them and get them excited about my class. I thought about how many weeks I had to teach songs before concerts came.
Now, I find myself actively thinking about how I would respond in a moment of crisis. I am not afraid to die, per se. But I find it strange that my back to school routine now includes working through a plan, preparing myself for the possibility that I would need to use myself as a shield or decoy to allow students precious seconds.
In saying this, I am not claiming any sort of heroism or unique status—and that is the problem. I suspect almost every teacher across the country is having similar thoughts. We now routinely having the same thoughts and conversations with loved ones that a police officer does. That’s why I am writing this. It is normal—but it should not be. Not because of the teachers (although we have loved ones who depend upon us) but because where there are teachers, there are students.
That this occupies even a few moments of thought is one thing. That it occupies time at schools across the nation, alongside training on the new grading system, use of an EpiPen, and CPR training is a symptom of a terrible madness. This is normal now—but it should not be. I am willing to take a bullet for a student. But I shouldn’t have to be.
There are no easy answers to this, and no amount of partisan rancor and bickering will solve it. We need leaders, real leaders at any and all levels of our society to stand up and say, “We have a serious problem. We need to address it on multiple levels and we need to start now.” Yes, it’s hard and messy. But it’s time to get to work.
This was not normal even a few years ago. If we act now perhaps we could keep it from becoming normal. It could become an aberration, a terrible anomaly that happened for several years in America before we collectively stepped up and started the hard work of fixing this problem. Call it what you will: a disease, a curse, a scourge, an epidemic—all of these words imply that solving it will be work. Hard, ongoing, continual work.
We had best get serious and best get started. Otherwise, the day may come when teachers who retire will not just swap stories about demanding parents or unruly students. They will be swapping war stories. The cost of that, for students and our society, would truly be horrific. It is not a future any of us should want.
Thoughts and prayers, yes. How about thoughts for solving a deep, and growing, very complex problem? How about thoughts and ideas from leaders and officials.
As far as prayers, I believe in them. I say them. I appreciate them. But perhaps our prayers could be for wisdom and courage in solving a problem so that we don’t always have to send thoughts and prayers to bereaved communities?
And, on that note, I close with a family story. Many years ago, mom’s family was out in a boat enjoying a day of waterskiing with some friends. In the middle of a huge lake, they had motor problems. The boat stopped and they could not get it started. With two families and young children in the boat, this was a problem. One of the passengers, a very devout, sincere woman said, “Perhaps we should pray.” Grandpa said, “Pray, hell! Let’s row.” He grabbed an oar and paddled that boat to shore.
It’s past time for all of us to row.
* In order to protect the safety of the students, the author has witheld their name.