I am a teacher.
Most of you know that’s my day job.
I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher since 1979, taking only one year off after I got married to try other jobs.
But I came back to teaching. The reasons aren’t important anymore – haven’t been for a while. I see myself as a professional at getting kids excited about literature, helping them find their writer’s voice, and gettimg them to learn the skills they’ll need to express themselves no matter what life throws at them.
And then life throws a wicked curve ball.
Wicked. Evil. Deranged. There are a lot of adjectives being tossed about by people right now concerning the recent events in Connecticut. All true, all wrong. It’s horrible, it’s shocking, it’s inevitable.
It will be a while (if ever) before we understand the shooter’s motive. As the confusion over the timeline becomes clearer, as the victims are identified and the world grieves, one fact will become startlingly clear: this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
Is that cynical? Yes, I suppose so. No one place can accept all the blame people will want to assign it. Violent video games (before this happened I was preparing a post on the fact that I recently picked up Doom again and how I enjoyed it’s simple premise: shoot anything that moves. Think I’ll hold off on that for a while now...), loose gun control laws (which, admittedly, need to be tightened, but should not be the sole holder of blame), lack of mental health care (again, a component, not an end-run). All these and more will find themselves in defensive mode over the next few weeks.
Rightfully so. If you cannot defend your beliefs, you probably should change them. But to single out any one activity out and lay all the blame on that one doorstep is simplistic at best, harmful at worst. The issue is bigger than that.
You probably expect me to lay out the issue – but I can’t. Being in the classroom, I’ve seen the level of violence cycle from pacific to tsunami levels depending on the year. Even within the year there are cycles. Learning to recognize and head them off is part of our job as educators. We succeed a lot. You have no idea how many fights we diffuse, prevent or don’t even let get to that stage.
But sometimes there’s that one kid. Every teacher has had one, or two (or, if you’ve been at this as long as I have, several). It’s the kid in the class who makes you think, “That’s one to watch. That one is scary.” But then the kid grows up and go on to become a thoughtful, respectable, responsible member of the community. Sometimes still odd, but not violent. Believe me, it happens that way almost all the time.
I am a teacher.
Tomorrow I’ll be in the classroom teaching my students survival skills. We have fire drills twelve times a year by state law. No kid, teacher or staff member has died as a result of a fire in decades. The alarm goes off and everyone goes into automatic mode, leaving the building in an orderly fashion, often glad for the interruption. We’ve got fires down.
Bullets? Not so much. In the Oregon mall shooting, police are crediting store personnel and customers alike in knowing what to do and doing it in order to get out of harm’s way and keep the body count low.
In schools, we’re teaching that. Along with grammar, literary terms and parts of speech, what to do if a shooter comes into the building is part of my curriculum. We talk about it on the first day of school, tomorrow we’ll drill it. I’ll make the kids get out of their seats and get to the place in the room where they can’t be seen.
In a week I’ll do it again. And in a month.
Does it take time from my teaching? Yes. Does it piss me off that I have to teach such a thing? More than you can imagine. Will I do it? Over and over again until they don’t have to think. Hearing the word “lockdown” will trigger the same automatic response the fire alarm does. It’s how I’ll keep them alive to teach them another day.
I’m a firm believer that, if a person wants to kill, they will kill. Nothing will stop him/her. No amount of locked doors or security drills will keep out a determined person.
But we can teach survival skills that will lessen the opportunities for the shooter.
And that’s my lesson for Monday.
My heart grieves for the parents and first responders of Newtown, Connecticut. If you would like to help, please consider giving.