When I was a school teacher, from 1991-2004, there was one incident in the last year that I taught where I legitimately feared for the safety of my class. I taught severely emotionally disturbed/violent children for the first five years of my career, and there were times I feared for MY physical safety, but never for the safety of my class.
I was a 3rd grade teacher at PS 241 in Harlem in 2003-2004. I really enjoyed teaching there, but it had its challenges, as do all jobs. We were in a rough neighborhood, as the gentrification that had been happening in Harlem hadn’t quite reached 114th Street. I am 6 feet tall and blonde, so to say that I didn’t blend in as I walked the halls is an understatement. Still, I never felt unsafe. Out of place, yes, In danger, no. Until one Spring afternoon. We had just finished our math lesson and were transitioning to the rug for our afternoon story time, when an administrator came to the door, told me that there were “masked individuals” spotted in one of the hallways and to not open our door until someone came and told us to. School shootings weren’t a thing (for lack of a better description) back then, with the exception of Columbine, and so there was no protocol for such a situation. I locked the door, brought everyone to the rug, and read our Harry Potter book like every other day. As I read about the enchanted halls of Hogwarts, I was wondering if people with guns were in the not so enchanted halls of PS 241. Somewhere on the other side of the school were shots being fired and were people being hurt? It was terrifying, but I never let on to the students that anything was wrong. Luckily, the masked intruders just walked through the halls of the upper school and left the building after scaring the living daylights out of everyone.
Even after this incident we didn’t talk about protocols or putting a plan in place when an armed assailant enters the school. We didn’t do active shooter drills and our students were not afraid for their lives (at least not at school). NEVER in the hour that I was fearing for the safety of my class, did I think to myself, “if only I had a gun”. None of the teachers that I know would want to have a firearm in their classrooms. More books, yes. Technology, absolutely. Pencils and paper, please. No one signs up to be a teacher with the hopes of someday having a gun in their classroom. Teachers are altruistic, they want to make the world a better place and educate your children – make them better people…not potentially fire a weapon at one of them.
Teaching is already the hardest job around. The pay is disgraceful, dealing with difficult students (and parents) is draining, and NOW they have to worry about being shot in school. It’s a miracle that teachers still get up every morning and dedicate their lives to molding the future of this country. But thank God they do. Teachers need to be armed with more resources, more support, more money, and more positive feedback….not guns. If you have school kids, this is what I ask of you…today, tomorrow, or the next day PLEASE thank their teachers for putting themselves out there every day for your kids. Shake their hand, give them a hug, bring them a treat. Honestly, it could make all the difference in the world to them – and they deserve it.