I still remember my very first lockdown drill. My 4th grade teacher explained that when an announcement came over the intercom system, we were to get up from our desks and move to a corner of the room as she shut off the lights and locked the door. This was our plan for making sure we were safe in the case of an active shooter or other violent threat, she said.
We anxiously did as we were told. I remember being frightened: What if the shooter came into the classroom? How long would it take for the police to arrive? Why couldn’t we leave to go to the bathroom or get a drink from the water fountain? There were so many questions my teacher couldn’t answer.
A decade later, I am now in college and studying to become a teacher myself. And I am increasingly terrified to enter a school professionally when I graduate. After 10 school shootings with injuries or deaths this year alone, I think constantly about what I would tell my students if I were in a similar situation. There is a high possibility that I will have to address questions my students have about gun violence and safety and, like my 4th grade teacher, I will not have all the answers for them.
No Teacher Prep on Saving Lives
My university professors skirt around school safety issues in class discussions, and I don’t blame them. There really isn’t a good way to teach “Saving Students From Gun Violence 101.” No amount of instruction can prepare you for the reality of an individual walking into your classroom with a gun.
At a time when school shootings are increasingly in the public eye, my classmates and I are poised to join a group of professionals nationwide who knowingly put themselves at risk every day. They do this with very little support in an environment where safety should be the least of their concerns.
As teachers, we should be worried about making sure that Jenny has a seat close to the board because she has a vision impairment or that John has the school supplies he needs. Our job should simply be to foster growth and development for children and show them how much they can accomplish.
While my fellow future educators and I have shown support for the national student walkouts and demonstrations for stricter gun laws, I think many of us feel helpless around what is occurring in our schools and our government. I am somewhere in between marching for my life and marching for my rights. Yes, teachers absolutely need raises in pay and funding for resources, but I also need to know that my peers are safe when they enter school.
As it is right now, I have to grasp that I could be asked to carry a weapon while I’m standing in front of my students. As it is right now, I have to seriously consider the fact that my body might become a shield if it means the difference between a child’s life or death. And I have to think about the fact that we are a nation so divided on this issue that almost nothing is being done to prevent more school shootings.
Preservice Teachers Should Not Remain Silent
I feel that I have been called to make a difference in the lives of children—regardless of the risks. I feel compelled to enter the classroom every day and teach the individuals who are going to make a difference in the world in the not-so-distant future. I want to approach every situation with genuine care for my students and to monitor closely for bullying and for signs of children who may be dealing with difficult issues. I feel compelled to make sure my classroom is an inclusive space where all feel welcome.
I’m not someone who normally chooses to speak her mind about such controversial topics. But something needs to change. This cannot be an issue on which future teachers remain idle and silent, twiddling our thumbs. Current teachers, responding to suggestions from lawmakers that teachers should be armed, began the #ArmMeWith movement to let the public know about the tools they’d rather use to make schools safer. Some have joined students at walkouts. It’s never too early for preservice teachers to join the conversation.
I am scared to walk into a classroom because I know there is an ever-increasing chance I may not walk out. I’m scared because I won’t know what to say when my future students ask me why someone would want to hurt them at school. I’m scared that our elected officials are going to continue to stand idly by as my colleagues and students literally take bullets for them.