What Does the Parkland Shooting Mean for Love, Learning and Lockdowns?

Written by Em Powers Hunter

I came across an odd item on my teacher to-do list: bring in bungee cord.

I had hastily scribbled it down the week before. It took me a second to remember why I needed such an item for my job as a teacherómy school, like many across the country, was doing a lockdown drill. As school districts have modified their approach to safety in light of the horrific school shootings, my district has also encouraged the new ďRun, Hide and FightĒ practices. As part of those, we are taught to tie any kind of rope to the door to secure it more effectively.

Part of being an excellent teacher is being prepared. We are masters at preparation and for that matter, preparing our students for the future.†Itís difficult, however, to prepare students for the possibility of violence, terror and mayhem. Itís not a job we want. It seems antithetical to our mission and the reason we became teachers in the first place.

How do I impart the needed knowledge and preparation without traumatizing my students? They were overflowing with questions and, yes, fear. As always, my sixth grade students amazed me with their thinking skills and ability to process the prospect of a school shooting.

Across the classroom, we pondered many questions:†What if I am alone in the bathroom when it happens? Other questions spilled out, too. Do we get to throw things at the shooter? Can we jump out the window? Should we go in the closet or not? (Before I could respond, a leader in our classroom said ďI will not! I heard some Kindergarten students did that and they all died!Ē)

On and on their questions and ideas catapulted into my classroom.†Torn between thorough preparation and too much discussion of violence, I did my best. As I answered their questions, I had my own questions erupting inside me. I had all the practical, first level issues surfaceóand then deeper questions, troubling questions plagued my mind.

What if I had to choose fighting for our lives in the classroom or fleeing out our window? What if my decisions saved three-quarters of the class but one-quarter of them died? Given the worst case scenarios, that would still be considered a good thing, to save children. But how can you justify such fractions, such odds? It was like a nightmarish math word problem gone awry. For Godís sake, Iím not a first responder. Do I have the wherewithal and grace under pressure to save my students and confront terror?

All of these scenarios and previous anecdotes from shootings collided in my mind.†It weighed heavy on me during a week that was supposed to be a celebration of love, not hate, not evil. I considered the irony of all this talk of death and fear and evil knowing that Valentineís Day was coming. I couldnít help but think that red was supposed to be a color of love on Valentineís Day and in my mind, all I could think of was blood.

And then I saw the news.

It was Valentineís Day and the horror occurred in Florida. As much as I tried to dismiss our lockdown drills and training as over-preparation and hysteria, I knew there would be another shooting. I just didnít think it would be this week, on a day of love and my students sharing paper valentines.

I had begun to think of this brave new world of lockdown drills and active shooter training as a surreal, dystopian experience. I tried to ground myself this last week and search for ways for my kids to be kids. I wanted to teach about the power of love and hope and faith and kindness but instead I had to teach about fear, hate, and terror.

To make a point to eleven year olds, you have to be very literal. You have to describe the consequences of making too much noise in your classroom or not following directions during a shooting. You have to make it real.†I wondered how these new trainings and exposure were contributing to a new reality. What world was I helping to create?

It haunted me then. It haunts me now.

One question that my students asked the other day came up with the recent tragedy. The student said, ďWhat if the shooter is one of us? What if they know all the things we are going to do?ĒThe thought had not occurred to me. I couldnít answer that question. I said, ďI am going to believe that there is no one like that in our classroom.Ē Of course, good teacher that I am, I had to play devilís advocate: However, if there is anyone that is having those kinds of thoughts or issues or is really upset, let me know, let someone know, and we can help you.

Ah, the idealism of teachers. We canít escape it. My subject area is English, and I fervently believe in the power of words. I cling to a few words I wrote down from a†Christian Science Monitor†article after Newtown every time I hear of a school shooting:†ďThe best antidote is to embrace the opposite of these thoughts and feelings. These include empathy, calmness, mercy, hope and openness, all of which have as much substance to deter killings over time as do metal detectors in the moment.Ē

In many of the shootings, there were situations where many didnít suspect what was in the heart and mind of the shooter; in many others, the warning signs were there. As teachers, we do our very best and then some to educate students and meet their needs, but we are human. We operate in very challenging, stressful conditions. Sometimes, we try and try and try and refer students to outside services to get help and it still isnít enough. There are so many children that fall through the cracks that it makes our daily lives as teachers fraught with worry and discouragement. It follows us home.

As a society, we need to ask what is most important: Common Core Standards or standards of humanity and character? Iím not saying that critical reading and writing skills and math skills are unimportant. I believe in those skills and rigor as much as the next educator.†I recognize a crisis, though, that takes precedence over these priorities.

After 12 years of teaching in a diverse bunch of schools and environments, I have observed the high anxiety and stress in our children building. We lack the extended resources to help these children and our schools and curriculum are sorely lacking in the areas most needed today: empathy, calmness, mercy, hope, openness.

Stop by my classroom any day. I wonít always score 100 percent on a teacher evaluation for exhibiting every standard, objective, strategy, instructional outcomes, data, formative assessments, summative assessments, state testing scores or the plethora of other evaluative criteria foisted on teachers today in our very ponderous teaching evaluation system.†I canít focus on every piece of minutiae that Iím asked to demonstrate because Iím in a war.†Iím fighting for our future and Iím fighting hopelessness and terror.

Tonight, I will force myself to read about the shooting in Florida. Iíll cry. Iíll be overcome with sadness and despair. Iíll say a prayer for all those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the community and hope that I donít have any nightmares.†And I will wake up to a new day, believing that something I do matters, that good will overcome evil, that light will overcome the darkness, that we can impact the future.

That is my common core. Those are my standards.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

45 comments

Will Rogers
Will Rogers3 months ago

Be brave America! Time to ban guns and the NRA. It is a terrorist organisation that has no place in the 21st century. There is a blot on the landscape of the world, it’s called America. If the UN wasn’t so corrupt it would put sanctions on that place for its continuing human rights abuses and its runaway gun violence problem. America seems to have a collective low level mental illness where they have normalised guns and gun violence. It’s a shame, that place used to be a focus for hope but is now a symbol of ignorance, arrogance and stubbornness. “A fool never changes its mind, but the wise change it’s mind often!” And we know that people kill people! Then why give them guns?

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Cathy B
Cathy B3 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Eric L
Eric Lees3 months ago

@Mike
"Military weapons in the hands of the People is not a good idea.

Australia had the mass-slaughterer problem. They took away the military weapons of war away from the People by buying them back. You can still have a hunting and target rifle in Australia, just not 100-round per minute weapon.

Australia has not had a mass slaughterer incident since."

Mike, your information is outdated and inaccurate. Civilians can not buy military guns, only semi-automatic guns that cosmetically look like military guns. Big difference.

If only it was that simple Mike. Yes Australia took away guns, but crime was already going down and they did not have the problems we have. It is worth looking into why they do not. Guns exist they can not be un-invented.

Why do we have the 2nd amendment? It's the final check against Tyranny and invasion. Until Tyranny and war is abolished it will always be needed. Banning the good guys and gals from owning weapons will not stop bad guys.

Stop distracting from the root causes of this complex issue.

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Eric L
Eric Lees3 months ago

@Rhoberta E
"david f
Rootin' tootin gun packing deer slayer (check avatar. That one's probably in his freezer by now)
The world is changing quickly alright. It's becoming a hate filled dangerous place to be, especially in the US . I want MY grandkids here in Canada to get a fear free education. You have more than blood on YOUR hands david. You have ignorance to spare."

Yes it's a messed up world we live in, adding hate and personal attacks is not helping any. Read the article again.

Peace, Love & Liberty is the only path to real progress.

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Eric L
Eric Lees3 months ago

@Winn A
"I have such respect for anyone who wants to be a teacher in this day and age. Who knows when you might have to take a bullet . . . . . . I really hope a real change will come to America concerning guns and the violence that comes with all of these assault weapons."

No violence comes from the guns, it all comes from the person wielding the gun or what ever weapon. When a terrorist uses bombs or trucks to kill we do not call it bomb violence or truck violence we blame the terrorists.

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Eric L
Eric Lees3 months ago

Thanks for the article, it's good to see a logic article on the topic rather than the typical knee jerk only focus on the weapon approach from Care2 authors.

It's a complex issue with multiple variable contributing to the problem, we need to address these if we actually want solutions.

As for drills in schools I'm sure other countries have to deal with this and worse. South Korea has nuclear drills for example.

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Winn A
Winnie A3 months ago

I have such respect for anyone who wants to be a teacher in this day and age. Who knows when you might have to take a bullet . . . . . . I really hope a real change will come to America concerning guns and the violence that comes with all of these assault weapons.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini3 months ago

David F
You say 'The liberals want to take the guns and give them to Trump.' Whatever do you mean?????

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