No one I know is unaffected by the carnage in Uvalde, Texas. Nothing compares to the suffering of the victims’ families. School shootings like this one also have a particular impact on teachers — already fleeing the profession in such numbers it’s a national crisis. What is being asked of them is unjust and has to change.
The Robb Elementary School shooting was the first of this magnitude in which I was not actively serving as a teacher in the classroom, since I’ve been out on medical leave. It feels different. It’s different to watch news like this when I don’t have to be in a classroom the next day, face rooms full of children and help them process the event, all the while wondering if they or I will be the next victims. Last week I watched the news. I scrolled through social media. I cried. I went for a walk. I didn’t have to show up at a school the next day and the day after that.
Some of my colleagues barely slept last Tuesday night, wondering how they would face Wednesday, what they would say. What can they say? “Don’t worry? You’re safe?” We all know — the kids know — that’s not true. Other colleagues report they’re fine. It’s normal. They’re used to it.
That’s how I felt on Dec. 9, 2019, when, while teaching, I received a text from one of my daughters saying her school was on lockdown because students had brought ammunition to school; administrators were searching for a weapon. It derailed my lesson — I allowed that — and my high-school multilingual learners and I talked briefly about it. My students were empathetic, unsurprised. Then we returned to work.
Three hours later the lockdown was lifted: No weapon found. It wasn’t a school shooting; it was barely news. “I’m fine,” I told anyone who asked, and I believed it. Nothing, really, had happened.
I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine after any of the school shootings, during any of the active shooter drills I helped facilitate in my homeroom classes. I didn’t completely realize the extent to which I wasn’t fine until Tuesday, when I could contrast my experience I had last week with what I’d had every time before. You feel it in your body: A tension that never goes away. A heaviness. Part of you always knows the worst could happen at any time. At any moment, you could be asked to throw your body in the path of a bullet to spare a student’s life.
This isn’t wild conjecture: There have been 27 school shootings with injuries or deaths so far in 2022 alone, according to Education Week, which began tracking school shootings in 2018.
People, this isn’t right. We cannot continue to allow this. Because that is what we’re doing as a nation: allowing it. We have to stand up to the gun lobby. We have to force our legislators to take action.
This morning I drove back to my school for the first time this year to tell my principal that I’m not going to be returning next year. After more than two decades of teaching, I’m adding one to the tally of K-12 teachers leaving the profession. The reasons are complicated, but part of it is this: I can’t bear the responsibility anymore. I can no longer bear being responsible for everything: every social ill, every sickness that finds its way into the classroom. Add to this the fact that lawmakers allow 18-year-olds to purchase weapons of war.
The students were gathered outside when I pulled into the high-school parking lot last Thursday, speaking out against gun violence and the country’s lack of will to do anything about it. As the teenage organizers passed administrators on their way back to class, one student said, “Thank you for letting us do this.” That’s the detail that haunts me. Thank you for letting us speak out against being massacred in our classrooms. We appreciate you for that.