I’m a teacher in Broward County, Florida. I’m thankful that I’m here now for my neighbors, but completely heartbroken that three of my colleagues and 14 beautiful children were gunned down this week in a school shooting that’s becoming so routine in our society.
Even though I don’t think we’ll ever feel 100 percent the same, I know we’ll come together as a school district and a community and I know we’ll come back from this. But here’s something else that I know: The politicians who’ve spent the last two days offering their thoughts and prayers aren’t doing their jobs.
Yes, their prayers are appreciated. But it’s time for them to be honest about — and to act on — a meaningful way to address gun violence, because by now it’s clear that their prayers won’t keep me, my students — or the victims of the next mass shooting — safe.
Right now, I’m sad. Sad that I had to be at a faculty meeting Thursday morning to see my principal crying as she explained to us that we had to read a letter to all our kids explaining that although Wednesday was an awful day, that today we — their staff and faculty — would keep them safe. Sad that I held our strong, 200-pound athletics coach as he sobbed over the loss of his dear friend, Chris Hixon. Sad that I watched our always-bubbly music teacher cry helplessly as she told us how her 5-year-old daughter woke up with nightmares about being killed in our school. Sad to see one of my assistant principals in tears over all the kids from her own neighborhood who were directly impacted by this shooting. Sad to hear one of our teachers describe to me how her brother’s children were there, in one of those rooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the time of the shooting.
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And what about the students? How do you suppose they felt watching their teachers struggle to keep it together? They have so many questions and we have so few answers. How does a young man, who’s too young to buy a beer, buy guns? Turns out that the answer, here in the Sunshine State, is that it’s easy.
In Florida, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, you don’t need a license to own a firearm. You don’t have to register firearms. You can buy as many firearms as you want at one time. Firearms dealers don’t need a state license. Assault-style weapons, .50-caliber rifles and large-capacity magazines aren’t regulated.
No wonder the Giffords Law Center gives my state a failing grade. I do, too.
Here’s what I want politicians in Florida and the rest of the country to know: I went to college for four years, got two master’s degrees and earned my national boards so that I could do what I, and my colleagues, love: teach children. I, and we, didn’t do it to prepare ourselves to one day have to defend ourselves and our students to the death, even though that’s exactly what our colleagues, coach Aaron Feis, coach and teacher Scott Beigel, and coach Hixon, did.
Don’t tell me teachers should be carrying weapons in the classroom — we’re not police.
It’s our job to assign books, create lessons and lead discussions that make students think critically and help them see the world a little differently: I want them to read “The Outsiders” in my class and remember it when they’re adults and their kids are reading it.
Don’t tell me there’s nothing we can do about guns. Yes, Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms — but it’s not limitless. And we all have the right to live.
I want our students to come to school every day, in their new Adidas and matching sweatshirts, talking about the most recent bat mitzvah they went to or movie that they saw. I want them to share the corny jokes that only 12-year-olds (and their teachers) appreciate. It’s no fun, but when it’s called for, I want to discipline students without worrying that maybe they’ll come back in a few years and shoot up the school. I want to not have my heart stop when the fire alarm goes off. I want to be someone they can confide in if they have a problem.
And at this point, politicians, don’t just offer us your thoughts and prayers. I welcome them, but prayers did nothing for Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marshall High School or three educators and 14 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Do something.
Debby Miller is a teacher in Broward County, Florida. She wrote this for The Washington Post.