A Teacher's Thoughts & Fears Following Sandy Hook
Like most people, I was particularly rattled by Friday's tragedy in Newtown, CT. I have small children of my own, my older son just a year or two younger than many of the victims. I simply could not know what the parents of the deceased children must have been going through, though what I imagined was worse than any conceivable hell.
I came home and smothered my boys with obnoxious kisses and hugs, so very grateful to have them in my life for one more day. But as I looked at their innocent faces -- their chubby cheeks and ear-to-ear smiles -- my thinking veered toward the victims and their last seconds on this earth.
What must those last moments have been like for them? How could someone so young and naive even wrap her or his head around what was happening? Did they feel any pain, or did death come swiftly and mercifully?
I also began thinking of the adult victims and all the other teachers whose charge of their children was tested beyond expectation that day.
Did they remember all they'd been taught to do during lockdown drills? Did their pounding hearts and trembling hands make executing those tasks more difficult? Did they actually believe what was happening was, in fact, happening? Did they see the faces of their students' parents and try their best to get those babies back to them, or were their concerns more immediate and their actions automatic?
I haven't been able to put any of these thoughts out of my mind all weekend -- thoughts of the victims' parents and families, thoughts of the victims' last moments, and thoughts of what must have been going through the teachers' minds. But as each day passes, my obsession finds a focus, and everything I do is accompanied by thoughts of a certain aspect of the tragedy.
Today it's what I, a high school teacher, would do in this circumstance.
I woke up this morning, and the first thing I said to my husband was, "But our doors open outward, so it wouldn't even matter if I did find something with which to barricade the door."
He, also a high school teacher, was perplexed: "What?"
"Oh, sorry. I was thinking aloud. I was just trying to figure out what I'd do if this scenario played itself out in my school. I read that some of the teachers at Sandy Hook barricaded their doors, preventing the gunman from entering their rooms. But our doors don't open inward; they open outward. So a barricade would be futile."
Our conversation -- or rather, my unhealthy obsession -- continued at brunch.
"So do I lock the kids in the ante-room and hide up on the counter next to the door with a pair of scissors or something? You know, so I can stab the gunman by surprise if he shoots out the window or locks and comes in the classroom."
"No," my husband replied sternly. "You wait for someone else -- a bigger, stronger teacher (so a man, though he didn't come out and say that) or a police officer. Your job is to keep those kids quiet and as safe as possible."
"Well, what if somebody wants to be a hero? You know, some macho football player or something?"
"You don't let him."
"Well, I'm not exactly equipped to restrain a 6'5", 220 lb 17-year-old, you know?"
"I know. But in a situation like that, they'll be so scared, no one will dare do anything other than what you say."
Right, I thought. They'll all do what I say.
But there's the rub. I don't know WHAT to say. WHAT to do.
I mean, I know what to do based on our school's safety procedures, which I'm willing to bet are the best we can implement for the safety of our students and staff. But when you think about it, 100% prevention of something like what happened in Newtown is impossible. Schools are public buildings. The public comes and goes. That's just the way of it.
There's a lot of talk about gun control and services for the mentally ill, most of which sound like good ideas to me. At this point, I'm game for whatever might make incidents like this as close to 100% preventable as possible.
But what I haven't heard a lot of talk about are the teachers and how we're supposed to cope with all this.
I'm sure I'm in the minority when it comes to educators' obsessions with facets of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Most teachers are likely engaging in their normal, weekly ritual of Sunday night grading and lesson planning.
But not me. Sure, I'm lesson planning, but I'm also planning for something far more serious. I'm planning for an emergency using measures I'm not even sure about.
As if I already didn't feel the pressure of our children's futures bearing down on my shoulders daily, this...this makes that pressure a thousand times worse. And it makes me question whether I want or can even handle the responsibility of protecting other people's kids from death at the hands of a madman.
I'm sure our odds of encountering a situation like that in CT are less than our likelihood of winning the lottery -- or something like that. But people do win the lottery, and tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary seem to be increasing in frequency.
Tonight, as I prepare tomorrow's lessons on Arthur Miller's experiences with the House Un-American Activities Committee and Act IV of Romeo and Juliet, I am comforted in the task, knowing I can draw upon my undergraduate and graduate studies and my career experience in crafting a quality educational experience for my students.
But as I also prepare a disaster plan in my mind -- an attempt to thwart a perpetrator's entrance to our classroom and save our lives should, God forbid, one day our morning begin the way it did in Newtown that fateful day -- I am a little less comforted.
A lot less confident.
Increasingly apprehensive about my true role as an educator and whether or not, in a time of great duress, I'd be able to think quickly and act steadily.
Because trust me: while they provide a plethora of courses aimed at improving teachers' pedagogy and classroom management, they don't offer courses for that other kind of preparation in college. Not even close.
Full-time teacher, mommy, and snark.
Catharsis: Parenting and stuff. With mediocrity.
Photo Credit: xtrah.