Dear School Board,
Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a letter to you, a letter into space on the injustice in our schools. Today I can’t help but write to you again. And perhaps the issue isn’t so far from where we were then.
My world has been rocked by yet another school shooting. My world has been rocked by the 17 more lives that have been so senselessly lost. Teaching is an incredible career. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with the leaders of tomorrow. I have cried tears of joy looking at my students’ progress and I have gone home still feeling warm from the love and hugs my students so freely give. I have also been sick to my stomach with fear over what my students are going home to each night. I have lost countless hours worrying about what more I can do to help my students reach success.
But now, my nightmares are different. For the last week I haven’t gone more than a few hours without thinking about the Florida shooting. All of our security trainings told us the best way to protect ourselves and our students is to be prepared. So I wonder…how many students can fit in the staff bathroom and will the tiny hook hold the door closed? If a shooter comes in and I’m not with students, do I run into the hall, a classroom, or find somewhere to protect myself? The security team says the teachers could have helped in Sandy Hook had they jumped when he changed his gun’s magazine. That 10-20 seconds is an opportunity. Am I truly expected to make a move in that moment? Could I even move if I wanted to?
So many people, educators and not alike, are throwing out solutions and blame like confetti. Far too often these ideas are overly politicized and polarizing. I can’t speak for all schools. I can’t speak for all teachers. And I certainly can’t speak for the hundreds of students and staff who have been a part of a school shooting first hand. However, I can speak for myself and the school that I know.
The idea of arming teachers with guns is absurd. We have had countless security trainings where they recommend different tools we can use to protect our classrooms, to make it less accessible than the room next door. They recommend the NightLocks, carabiners, bungee cords, etc, but they will not be provided. We are told this is one more thing to add to our Back to School shopping list. The district is putting their hopes into the already bare pockets of teachers and the idea that it couldn’t possibly happen here. As the person who walks the halls every day and greets the children each morning, that is not enough.
ARM ME. Arm me with support. My students are living in trauma. My students are living in poverty. My students need us. We don’t know all of the answers, but we do know some. Look at the other schools in the district. Look at test scores from year to year. Look at disciplinary reports. Walk through the hallways. There is no denying that we know truly effective ways to do better for our students. Our students from poverty and trauma need us most. Stop deciding the quality of their education based on the street they live on. In these schools we need small class sizes so that we can do our smallest part to make up the love that many of these students are screaming for. We need small class sizes so that we can target the exact academic gaps that so often comes with our transient students. We need counselors and social workers who are paid out of the district budget and not federal funding. We have to work with families and stop having education be something that is done to them. We need to teach students how to deal with the toxic stress they are facing. We must encourage the feeling of all emotions and teach healthy coping skills. We need diverse classrooms in all schools so that every child can learn to accept their neighbor before the world teaches them to judge one another by the color of their skin and the religion they practice. Arm me with time and gratitude. Your teachers are drowning. They are drowning because of how deeply they care for their students. It may just be a number of words read in a book, but we know the statistics behind reading scores. It feels like it’s make or break for them. And for so many, education is the key to their future. Give me time so that I can come to work energized and optimistic instead of weary and distressed. Tell me I matter. Because when you are working with some of the hardest students in a broken system, the thank yous don’t come as frequent as we need. Before the world tells a teacher to pick up a gun, perhaps they should think about the last time they thanked them for something other than laying down their life for a child.
The number of mass shootings in America are tragic. The solutions to this epidemic are complicated. It will be a long and hard battle. But in our community, in our schools, we have the start of answers. Please don’t forget about us. The flags may return to full mast. The news will turn back to Olympic coverage. And those unaffected by the shooting will return to a comfortable normalcy. Our students and teachers lives depend on this change. ARM US. PROTECT US.
A Heartbroken Teacher