As I got to school this morning, 90 minutes before the start of the day, I tried to do what I always do on Mondays. Change the “Jobs chart”, set out the “Before School Work”, organize the art supplies.
But I kept being interrupted by my friends, my colleagues, my teaching buddies. “How are you?”, we asked each other, before breaking down in tears. “I’m so sad.” “I’m afraid.” “I don’t know what to say to them.” We tried to comfort each other, knowing that there could be no comfort for people who unexpectedly found ourselves on the front line in a war we did not create. We hugged, we cried, we squared our shoulders and we promised each other that we would do what was best for our kids. As always.
Some time later, the children arrived with big eyes and false smiles. They joked with me and did the morning routines and started in on their history work, but they were watching me closely the whole time.
I didn’t want to greet each one with “Did you hear about what happened in Connecticut?”, so I bided my time. I wanted to see how they were feeling. I wanted to take the temperature of the room.
It was interesting. So many of them were “tired”. So many said that they had a “headache” or a “bug bite” or a “sore foot”. They wanted the nurse. They wanted a hug. They wanted their moms.
As I waited for everyone to arrive, I moved quietly around the classroom. No one was upset, no one was openly scared. But you know what I heard, as my ten year old students were filling in the worksheet about American history? This is what I heard:
“My Mom and Dad didn’t want to talk about it, but my Mom kept crying.” “My Mom said that one teacher tried to save her kids by locking them in a closet. I wish we had a closet.” “If a guy with a sniper scope was standing in that yard, he could shoot in this window.” “It was really little kids that got killed. Just first graders.”
And there I was; the only line of defense between them and insanity. My aging, out of shape self, hoping that I could shield them from the copycats, the snipers, the crazies with the super weapons.
I don’t understand. I just don’t.
We are a SCHOOL. I am a TEACHER.
I can’t morph myself into the power of Vengeance Woman, as much as I would like to do that. I would like to take every single “gun rights” advocate who believes in weapons that can fire a hundred rounds of ammunition without stopping, and I would like to beat them senseless with a dictionary. I would like to magically absorb all of those weapons of mass destruction, and melt them down into a puddle of molten ore. I would like to find the head of the NRA and make him come into my classroom and explain to my trembling children why his right to play with his toys is more important than their right to learn without fear of assault and death.
I can’t stop mental illness. I can’t prevent family trauma. I can’t step in to prevent an obsession with violent video games.
I’m just a nice, ordinary public school teacher! I didn’t sign on for ANY of this.
So what can I do?
I can write letters to my elected officials (as I have done so many times before!) and I can ask these questions, in the voices of my students:
1) WHY do people need those guns?
2) Why are they allowed to buy guns that kill so many people in so little time? What is the purpose of those guns? What is the reason for their existence, if not to kill me and my friends?
3) Are you going to try to protect me, or are you going to leave my fate in the hands of “gun shows” and on line gun dealers?
4) How are you going to look at yourself in the mirror the next time that a sad and desperate young man turns his Sig Sauer on a group of children like me? Will you be able to tell your grandchildren that you did everything you could to save us?
5) Why are you more worried about your NRA sponsors than you are about my future?
I am so tired. I will try to sleep, try to keep the bad dreams at bay, try to go back in to school tomorrow in the hopes that the man with the sniper scope isn’t aiming for my window.