I will not accept our new reality.
I am angry that once again, people are dead because of a shooting at a school. Hundreds more are forever changed by what they witnessed. Once again, I’m reading stories about students who were inexplicably brave in the face of danger, and teachers who are now heroes.
I don’t want to be a hero. I’m a high school teacher. I want to help students become better readers and writers, and I want to make their time in my classroom positive. I want to do my job well and come home to my family at the end of the day.
Like most teachers, I like to learn new strategies, and I continue to wonder what I can do to improve my students’ experiences in my class. I’m angry that now I have to wonder and worry about other things.
I wonder whether I should open the door if students are outside during a lockdown. If some students are already hiding inside my locked classroom, won’t opening the door put them at risk?
I worry that my classroom doesn’t offer many hiding places.
I wonder whether I would take a bullet for my students.
I spent a week after the Parkland shootings consumed by these thoughts. I wondered whether I needed to stop reading the news and try to move on.
Then, reality reminded me that I couldn’t just move on. The week after the Parkland shootings, I was in my classroom at 7:50 in the morning with three other students when our school was placed on lockdown. Like most schools, ours has lockdown drills, so we knew what to do.
The students chose places to hide. I suggested two boys sit in one corner, because it’s protected from view on three sides.
I reached my hand outside and jiggled the door handle to confirm it was locked. I pulled the door closed firmly.
I closed the blinds.
I turned off the lights.
I squeezed under a table.
In the silence, I tried to convince myself it was a drill, but it was 7:50 a.m. School wasn’t in session yet. Why would we have a drill at 7:50?
The intercom clicked on again, and I heard my colleague’s voice confirm my fears. “This is not a drill. This is not a drill.” I was scared, and I was worried that my students were scared.
I wished I had sat closer to one student. The two boys in the corner had each other, but one girl was about 10 feet away. I couldn’t see her, and I wanted to move next to her and try to comfort her with lies, like “Everything will be fine,” but I didn’t want to move. What if I made a noise?
The two boys were talking quietly, and I used a messaging app to send a quick text: “Hi. Even though everything is probably fine, please whisper.” I ended with a thumbs up emoji to lighten my tone.
We were silent.
Minutes passed. I worried that there was something else I should be doing for the students in the room, but what could I do?
We heard a soft knock on the door. My heart beat faster. I wished I could tell the other students it was probably just a classmate at the door, but I didn’t want to make a sound in case it wasn’t.
Again, we waited.
We heard the door handle being jiggled as someone tried to open the door. I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips.
A few minutes later, the loudspeaker clicked on, and we were told a student was running on campus with a toy gun. When authorities were sure we weren’t in danger, they lifted the lockdown. It was over. We started our school day. It was awful.
So here we are. I’m worried, but I go to work. I send my children to school. This is the new reality for students and school employees, but it is not normal.
If you’ve stopped thinking about the Parkland shootings and school shootings in general, please reconsider. School shootings were not always commonplace, and we must not accept their frequency. This is not the time for defeatist attitudes. Every day, I read the news and listen to passionate teenagers demand action, and I read responses from adults arguing that the students’ suggestions will not decrease the frequency of school shootings. I hope parents, teachers, lawmakers and every thinking adult will resist dismissing suggestions before they’re thoroughly examined. I’m excited to see high school students organize, write and speak with an urgency, eloquence and effectiveness that surely makes their surviving teachers proud. They remind us that we must explore every possible action that may decrease the bloodshed on our campuses. Why wouldn’t we?
I will not accept our new reality. If we accept it, we stop working to alter it, and that is the only thing that’s not an option.
Stephanie LeClair has been a high school teacher for 22 years. She lives in Paso Robles and teaches at Templeton High School.