I have about four other blog drafts at the moment that I have been working on but I feel like I can't publish any of them until I post this one. Yes, I am going to write about Newtown, Connecticut and Sandy Hook Elementary School. I'm going to try my best to stay on topic, which is my perspective as a teacher, and keep my fears to myself for my own children when they enter school. I don't want this to be another post about someone rambling on about how devastated they are by this tragedy, about how they choke up and the tears spill out when they watch the news or read the articles, or see the countless pictures of victims posted on every form of social media. I'm a part of that group - I've cried, I've held my babies close and thanked God for their safety, I've gotten into heated debates with everyone - my husband, friends, cyber-friends, and even my physical therapist about what is wrong with this country and what needs to be done to fix it. I was online when the CNN banner popped up that the shooting had occurred and I watched as information, and misinformation, came through the interwebs. I watched the death toll creep up, the killer's name be released and then corrected, the motive announced and then retracted... I read posts and tweets about gun control and policy change, I watched our president address the nation just hours after a church in Newtown had to be evacuated because of death threats. All this following a shooting close to home in an Oregon mall and the Aura, CO. shooting on opening night of The Dark Knight Rises, which my husband was attending here in town. Although all of these events were hundreds (or thousands) of miles from our sleepy little town, they came in through the TV and the computer as if they had happened just down the street. All of these events left me terrified for the simple reason that they occurred in places I considered to be safe. My husband was at the premiere of Dark Night Rises when the shooter opened fire in the theater in Aura, Co. I was at the mall here in town, taking my babies to have their picture taken with Santa when the Clackamus Mall shooting occurred, I was teaching in my classroom when the shots were fired at Sandy Hook Elementary. Despite their physical distance, all of these events hit far too close to home.
I was a junior in high school when the Columbine shootings occurred and I was a college student at CWU on the brink of graduation when the Virginia Tech massacre took place. I remember these events - I remember the horror of realizing the students my age were gunned down in senseless acts of rage. Students with entire lives ahead of them - families, careers, dreams that would never be realized. When I entered my own classroom for the first time I had a plethora of fears - typical first-time teacher fears - what if the kids didn't like me or respect me? What if I didn't know my content well enough and my students failed because of me? "What ifs" were the bane of my existence as I spent the month of August preparing for that first year. But the biggest fear loomed in the back of my mind, "What if there's a shooting? Will I be strong enough, brave enough, to protect my students?" Now, after almost seven years of teaching, I realize the answer is an easy yes. I didn't realize that first year how much I would come to love my students and how I would spend late nights laying awake wondering how I could motivate them, help them be successful, or help them realize the potential that I saw in them. Now I also lay awake wondering how I would protect them in the event of an attack on our school. We have procedures - we practice Code Red lock-downs and I know what to say and where to direct my students to, and how to account that each person is where they are supposed to be. But what about the factors I have no control over? To lock my door in a lock-down, I have to step out into our hallway and lock it from the outside, as does every other teacher in the building, exposing ourselves to the sights of a shooter in our hall. If I do successfully lock the door and get back inside uninjured, I have to account for the fact that if our principal, vice principal, or secretary are injured or killed - there is a very real possibility that the gunman has access to a master set of keys, which means he will be able to open any classroom at will. Then what? When I hear the shots making their way down my hall and I hear the fumbling of keys at my door, then what do I do? I can't tell you how close I've come to buying a crowbar or a baseball bat to leave in my room, so that if it came down to it, I could position myself near the door and swing like hell as soon as it opened. Because if that door is breached and if that gunman enters my room - my students and myself are as good as dead - there is no where to hide and the only escape route is out the windows (directly across from the door) and out into an open field with no protection. So what other choice would I have but to stand and pray that the first swing is enough to catch him off guard and not get shot in the process.
All of this was brought in to much clearer perspective this morning when I awoke to the news that a man in our community had posted threats about schools in our area - possibly our school district in particular and had expressed the desire to "do something similar" because the "kids deserve it". It breaks my heart and strikes fear in me at the deepest level to learn that a man living within our community harbors the desire to hurt or kill my students and although I know that my administrators are hard at work as I write this, working with the FBI and the local police - it is going to be very hard to walk through those doors on the 2nd of January without some fear in my heart and doubts in my mind.
News clip can be found here.
Do I believe that there is a simple fix? Not in the slightest. I believe that we can plan for worst case scenarios but I don't believe that we can plan for what someone who is not of sound mind could dream up. Do I believe that there should be a way for teachers in our building (and district) to lock our doors from the inside to reduce the chance of being shot while trying to protect our students, YES. A thousand times yes. But that request has fallen repeatedly on deaf ears. Do I want metal detectors and armed guards at the doors of my tiny little school? Yes, if I felt like it would deter any of this violence. I'm also practical and I realize that our school are operating on nonexistent budgets and there simply is no money available for that kind of security. But if we arm our schools... then do we also arm our movie theaters and malls? Our grocery stores? Where does it end? We simply don't have the resources or the manpower to protect every civilian at every venue at any given moment - and that is the truth of the matter.
Do I believe that gun control or policy will make a great change? No. Simply because those who want weapons desperately enough are going to find them - legally or illegally. I don't believe we should be selling assault rifles to the general public, but again - if a mad man wants a gun, or three, he will find them. And policy? These shooters don't have any fantasies about walking away from these situations - it's a suicide mission. Consequences will mean nothing to them because they don't intend to live long enough to face them.
And last, but not least, the media... If there is one area that I believe is a double-edged sword, it's the media. We all complain about it - the bias, the interviewing of small children, the misinformation, etc. But we also all watch it. I kept CNN on my desktop all day on the 14th as the events in Connecticut unfolded, I checked Twitter and my Breaking News app for updates throughout the day. Even though I don't watch the news on a regular basis at home, I relied on it for information that day - just as I did on 9/11 and every other terrifying event that has occurred during my adult lifetime. I relied on reporters to get close to the scene, to the witnesses, to make some sense out of what I was seeing. I realize that these reporters are people too, with children they were probably worried about, but a job that had to be done and a boss who expected them to do it. I don't agree with sensationalizing the killers or the events because I believe that fuels the fire for others considering similar actions.