For two and a half years, I was in charge of a school. Our students ranged in ages from 2½ to 18. The school was idyllic, located at the base of a mountain. Sometimes we saw rainbows arcing through the sky. The leaves turned gold and the Burning Bushes flamed red in autumn. In winter, students would keep slippers in their classroom and go sledding at recess. Every teacher seemed to own a guitar. The school reminded me of my summer camp, where every day was a new adventure in community living, friendship, and music.
Sometimes people ask me if I worried about a school shooting, during the time that I was there. The answer is yes. How often did I worry about an active shooter situation? The truth? Every single day for two and a half years.
“Your students are so lucky…”
Shortly after I arrived at the school, I asked the local police to walk through each of the 11 buildings on the campus with me and talk me through what we needed to do to prepare for an active shooter scenario. They sketched out a plan for each classroom, and listed all the updates we’d need to make to ‘shooter-proof’ the buildings. They told me that they no longer recommend hiding as a first recourse, instead they teach the following mantra: “Run, fight, or hide.” “Your students,” they said, “are so lucky, because they can just run into the woods.”
“We need to practice,” I told the faculty. The subtext of that sentence was, “we need to practice how you will lay down your lives for your students.”
We became teachers because we wanted to contribute, because we care about youth, and because teaching is a great career — it comes with pension, with summers off. Each day is different. It’s a relationship-based career, with lives spent in community. We make a difference.
School takes on a new meaning.
When we became teachers, we envisioned an engaging life in the classroom. Life. Not death. Not practicing to stay alive, not putting our own lives on the line. Even though the risk of being in a school shooting is incredibly low, any amount of risk is too much. And so a generation of children is growing up practicing silent hiding and calculating the angle of their seat placement in the event that someone bursts into their classroom with an automatic weapon. But also, so is a generation of teachers. Is today the day? Will I know how to react? Can I run, fight or hide, or will I freeze up and die? Will I be able to do what I need to do to protect the children I am responsible for?
How does one plan a lesson with this terrible noise in the background? It’s no wonder that teachers are dropping out of the profession in record numbers.
Nothing happened at the school I was responsible for, not in the time I was there. It wasn’t thanks to my worry or planning or the drills we practiced, or even the nearby woods. If the purpose of schooling is to prepare the rising generation to be active citizens of our participatory democracy, then perhaps what we are seeing from the Parkland students is just the beginning of the outrage and anger. I hope so. In the meantime, teachers and principals will continue to worry, and plan, and practice, and pray that today is not the day.
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