With the school year approaching, we are left to consider the inevitable discussion of school shootings. I’m entering my twelfth year of teaching and every year I have students ask me about school shootings. Will you block the door with your body? Will you take a bullet for me? Will you run away? We only have one door, what do we do if the gunman gets to the door? Do we break the window and get out that way? Are you scared? Do you think about it? What about where your kids go to school? Do you think your kids’ teachers will take a bullet for them?
When I was growing up, school shootings were not a thing. We didn’t even consider the possibility. There had been a few during my lifetime, but the world changed for me as I watched Columbine unfold in the spring of my 8th grade year. I sat transfixed on the couch watching as teenagers ran with their hands on their heads out of the building. I remember thinking they looked so grown up. I was fourteen and getting ready to enter high school in a few short months. The concept of the same thing happening at my school never occurred to me. It was outside of the scope of my imagination. School shootings were not common, until all of the sudden they were.
I know when the change happened. I know there has been a slow eroding of the feeling of safety within a school while I was teaching. I could feel the gradual change until it was a landslide. Sandy Hook happened during my fifth year of teaching. I left school to get my own children from daycare, a three year old and an infant; they seemed so tiny as I clung to them for several minutes before the drive home. It was the day before Winter Break and I thought surely we would do something as a nation. Someone would do something. I was wrong.
I stood in front of my juniors on December 14, 2018 this past school year and reminded them that today was the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook. I had a student look at me and say “Which one was that again?” I looked around the room at confused faces and I realized that there have been so many school shootings in their lifetimes that they couldn’t remember the one where the little kids died. As a parent and a teacher, that day is irrevocably burned into my consciousness and there have been so many since then that my students didn’t even register the memory. They would have been twelve years old in 2012, just two years shy of my age when Columbine seared my memory. It was just another school shooting to them.
The growing trend of mass shootings have left schools scrambling to find ways to protect their children. We have heard a resounding no from legislators when it comes to asking for changes at the national level to ensure the safety of children. Parents and public school teachers are no match for lobbyists. We went from hiding and pretending classrooms were empty to actively training our children in how to fight if an attacker gets into the room. Pick up the things closest to you and throw them. No, it won’t hurt the attacker, who will likely be wearing body armor, but it might startle them so some of you can get away. Some of you. Not all of you. Some of you, children, will die. We don’t know which ones. It’s a price our country is apparently willing to make.