The first time I heard gunshots in the neighborhood outside of my classroom, I was planning the next week’s lessons. Off in the distance and getting closer, I heard that telltale pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. I did what seemed logical at the time – I closed my window, crawled across my classroom floor, and called upper-level management.
This seemed logical because none of the classrooms in our building had doors that locked. Upper-level management refused to give us keys to our classrooms because we had “an open door policy” and they felt that they “needed to be able to enter any classroom at any time.”
This seemed logical because my classroom didn’t have air conditioning and I kept my windows open most of the day.
This seemed logical because teachers at my school were explicitly not allowed to call 911 from our classrooms because “the front office needs to know everything that’s going on in the building.” If emergency help was needed, we were to call the front office, who would then send an upper-level administrator to investigate, who would then call 911 if it was deemed an emergency. This was all assuming that the front office responded to a phone call, of course. The front office was often very busy (we didn’t have a nurse or counselor, just a lone secretary) taking care of parents and children. The punishment for calling 911 without permission from upper-level administration was immediate termination. (I had decided early on that if I ever had a true emergency in my classroom, I would risk my job.)
“I’m hearing gunshots outside of my classroom,” I said.
“It’s probably just a car backfiring,” I was told. (It wasn’t, I can tell the difference.) “Besides, there are grates on the windows. You’ll be fine.” I spent the rest of my planning period writing lesson plans while sitting on the floor.
As much as I’d like to wax poetic about my own personal trauma, though, this post is not (and cannot be) about me. I got to leave that neighborhood every night – I had enough privilege to be able to escape to a quiet, comfortable suburb. My students didn’t get that privilege – This was where my kids lived.
This post is about my students walking home amidst gunfire and gang warfare. This post is about a generation of children who believe school shootings are normal. This is about classes of children who have to practice hiding in the corner of a classroom so that when the day comes that a gunman with and AR-15 enters their school building, they have a higher chance of surviving. This is about the teachers who have to think critically whenever they hear a fire alarm – Is this real? Is this a drill? Is this a shooter trying to lure us out of our classrooms? This is about feeling unsafe going to the grocery store, or the mall, or a movie theater, or a night club because you never know if today’s going to be the day that you’re taken down by a white male in his 20’s who bought his assault weapon legally at the Walmart three days ago.
And this is about the people who, like my upper-level administrators, don’t seem to care or understand the existential threat that gun violence brings to our communities.
When I hear pundits and politicians talk about gun control, I don’t hear the words of people who understand. I don’t hear the words of people who have had to crawl across a classroom to get to the phone. Does their stomach sink every time they see a headline about a child being shot, knowing that it could be one of their kids? Have they seen their students on the news, victims of yet another senseless shooting?
When I hear pundits and politicians speak, I don’t hear the words of people that have mourned the injury or death of multiple students a year. I wonder if they’ve ever held a sobbing mother during parent-teacher conferences, as she mourns the loss of her brother to gun violence. Have they ever had to explain to a Kindergarten student why they have to hide in the corner and not make a sound? Have they ever had a class of seventh graders ask if they would die for them? Have they stood at the doorway of their classroom or office, practicing locking and unlocking their door so that they can do it quickly enough when an intruder enters the building? Have they looked into the eyes of a student who shot and nearly killed another student “for fun?” Have they feared for their lives during a fire drill, knowing how easy it would be for a car to drive by and open fire at the crowd of children and teachers standing outside the school building? Have they had to lock down their school building because there was a shooting at another school down the street? Have they had to walk students to their cars during dismissal amidst an overwhelming police presence because there was a gunman in the area?
I have. So many of us have.
We didn’t go into education to become martyrs. Our students shouldn’t have to come to school every morning fearing for their lives. Gun control now.