When I started my teaching career 18 years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of different roles at my high school. I have been a therapist, a cheerleader, a confidant, a maternal figure, a nurse, a role model, a disciplinarian, a mediator, a comedian…the list goes on and on. I knew that being a teacher was going to involve more than just teaching. I knew there would be amazing days, when lessons went perfectly and students were well-behaved and sweet and engaged. I quickly learned there would be really hard days, where students were bored and disrespectful and rude. After almost two decades, I can take the good with the bad. I still love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.
When I started teaching, it was only a few years after Columbine, which hit home for me because I lived in Littleton, CO at one point when I was young. At the time, it seemed like that was the worst possible scenario that I could imagine happening in a public school. I also naively believed it was a one time tragedy. Obviously, sadly, I was very wrong about that.
For most of my career, I had to sit through (usually boring) teacher staff development seminars on standardized testing and curriculum standards. But now we do active shooter training. I should be learning about differentiated instruction methods or how to implement new technology into my lessons. Instead, I am learning how to barricade my classroom door and what warning signs of violent behavior to watch out for in my students.
I’m sure this sounds immature, but it just isn’t fair. Teachers and students should not have to feel scared in school. Anytime I go to a different room in my school, I mentally plan an exit strategy. When I have cafe duty, I run through the scenarios in my mind of where I can hide the students if they are in danger. When I hear the “beep beep beep” of the loud speaker turn on, my body stiffens with instant anxiety, waiting for an announcement about a lockdown and when I hear the secretary page a teacher to the office, I feel a wave of relief. I read about the teachers who died shielding their students and I wonder if I would have the courage to protect mine. I have nightmares about one of my students exacting revenge because of my disciplining them or reporting them for cutting my class. I scrutinize my students for any signs of bullying, loneliness, exclusion, depression, drug abuse, anxiety, etc.
There is not one single day that passes that I do not think about a school shooting at some point. Unfortunately, this is the new reality of being a teacher in this country.