“I am an English teacher at a large suburban high school. Times have become increasingly worrisome for teachers and students alike. Calls to arm educators and newsfeeds of shootings in houses of worship, schools, and workplaces rattle me. They rattle the students too. I have degrees in English and Education. Never did I imagine people would suggest I’d be called to bear arms also. It’s madness.
We practice monthly safety drills since school shootings appear in the news all too often. It’s required, and I hate it. It reminds me that I’m fragile and mortal and that my job could someday demand more of me than I ever expected. However, I understand why we must do it.
Earlier this year, after the Parkland shooting, students grew uneasy as they began to make the connection between the required drills and national news of such senseless violence. In the days and weeks following that tragedy, students at my school wanted to talk. They organized rallies. They wanted their voices heard.
One tall football player who looked like a grown man, beard and all, pressed me with pleading eyes and questions I didn’t want to answer. The classroom was full, and all eyes were on me. At that moment, all my training and experience as a teacher seemed useless in the face of such questions.
‘It could happen here, couldn’t it?’
How could I answer that? It could happen anywhere. Instead of saying anything that might create hysteria, I told him that I take my job to conduct the drills and protect my students seriously. I promised they could count on me. That was this past spring. As always, you pray it’s the last shooting in the news, but it never seems to be.
Last month, we had a lockdown that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. The announcement came towards the end of the school day. At first, we weren’t sure if it was a drill. Something seemed off. It was rushed and abrupt. I had pangs of worry but didn’t show it.
Instead, I herded 25 tenth-graders into a corner of the classroom. Thankfully, I was with my co-teacher and a guidance counselor who was there to help students pre-grid their names on the PSAT testing form.
We waited in silence, the kind of silence that roars in your ears.
After about 7 minutes of absolute quiet, I whispered encouragement to the students.
‘Sometimes they bring the police in to ensure we are doing the drill correctly. It’s probably that.’
It wasn’t that at all.
Before I knew it, a group text with my colleagues had begun, and I was advised to look at a community page on Facebook. Rumors from children to their parents included the suspicion of a gun in the school, supposedly used to threaten another student.
A student of interest had been removed from one Facebook poster’s daughter’s classroom for questioning. My insides knotted up. I avoided eye contact with my students.
They had their phones out also. I’m a stickler about cell phones, but all bets were off that day. I have no doubt they’d seen and heard similar rumors. Nobody said it aloud though.
All that time, I whispered small talk to my students and encouraged them to stay out of the way so that they couldn’t be seen from the door. It was awful.
For the next hour, I reassured students. I checked my text messages. I scrolled the community Facebook page. I looked out the window.
I did not pray even once during the lockdown. I’d simply forgotten to.
After the lockdown was deactivated and we were downgraded to a shelter-in-place setting, students returned to their seats and continued gridding for the PSAT with little fanfare. There were a few sighs of relief. Thankfully, the threat of a gun was an unfounded claim in the end.
I plopped down at my desk and without thinking, breathed out a quiet prayer.
‘Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.’
I’d been busy watching the students and trying to reassure them. Staying alert, checking for updates, and noting my classroom situation had taken precedence. I’m a prayerful woman but no prayers came in the midst of the lockdown. Prayer paralysis had consumed me.
I had to pay attention and keep a sense of calm. My heart and mind were distracted and afraid. As I drove home, I continued prayers of gratitude that had been dammed up by my fear during the lockdown.
Teaching has taken on a whole new series of worries since I started 15 years ago. I never worried about my safety when I started my career. Drills to protect my classroom from shooters are a new phenomenon that reminds me that we live in a new age. We’ve crossed the threshold into a time when the youngest of children considers this practice a normal affair. It’s heartbreaking. May the day come when it will be hard to remember the last time something like this happened.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tracy Cooper of Earl Grey and Yellow in New Jersey. You can follow her on her Facebook page. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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