Teaching in the Age of School Shootings. by Jennifer Thomas

Teaching in the Age of School Shootings by Jennifer Thomas I went into teaching with wide eyes and an open heart, determined, in some small way, to make a contribution […]

March 29, 2018 // EYEJ // No Comments //

Teaching in the Age of School Shootings by Jennifer Thomas

I went into teaching with wide eyes and an open heart, determined, in some small way, to make a contribution to the world. For the last 26 years, each day I’ve arrived at the same K-5 elementary school, hoping to make someone’s life a little bit better, praying to make the world a little bit better. I took courses on pedagogy and in different content areas. I learned how to think about education and how to teach lessons. I became proficient in classroom management and data analysis. I’ve prepared for tests like the OAA, PARCC, AIR, and OST.

Then along came ALICE.

These days, my worries have shifted from high-stakes testing to mass school shootings. Now I have to teach Responding to an Active Shooter, in addition to Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. 

I started teaching in 1992, so I was lucky enough to teach without the threat of death for 7 blissful years. Columbine was completely unexpected and left us bewildered and terrified. As a result, security measures were implemented to address our concerns, but at the time the threat didn’t even seem real. Thirteen years later, after the 27 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary, things got real – for me and every other teacher and student and parent. Bomb threats and security guards have become as routine as report cards and assemblies. They are almost ubiquitous.

Sure, safety preparedness has always been a part of schooling. There have always been fire drills – which always seem to happen when it’s cold and/or rainy outside. There have always been tornado drills – which inevitably position one kid’s rear end in the next kid’s face. We complain about them but run through them dutifully, knowing it’s unlikely we’ll ever really face a fire or a tornado.

But the lockdown drills are different. They feel scary and all too real these days as we hover in the corner of the classroom, listening for the rattle of our doorknob. All schools today follow ALICE: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. A Level 3 Lockdown means close and lock classroom doors, turn off lights, and get out of sight. Sometimes we practice barricading the door by pushing tables and bookcases against it. One of the strangest parts of ALICE to practice is Counter. Some of the recommended counter activities include throwing books or materials at anyone who enters the classroom, making as much noise as possible, and running around the room to create chaos. Practicing these is very disruptive and each time, I’m left thinking, “Wait, what?! I’m going to throw school supplies at a gun-wielding maniac?”

And some people are demanding that teachers be armed.

Do I want a gun? Hell, no. Do I want my colleagues to carry guns? No way. Educators already serve as teachers, surrogate parents, psychologists, counselors, and social workers for our students. I don’t want to be an armed guard as well. I want to teach. I want to share the joy of learning with my kids. And yes, my colleagues and I all call your kids our kids – because that’s how we feel about them. I am not qualified to carry a gun and I don’t ever want to be. I want to be armed with knowledge and experience and support and books and technology, so I can do my job – a job that I love – for the children I love as my own.

I also want the people we elect to do their jobs and implement the most effective regulations on guns. I don’t want a kid whose frontal lobe isn’t yet fully formed to be able to walk into a store and walk out with a gun. I don’t want it to take less time to purchase a gun than it takes to get a driver’s license. I don’t want private citizens to be able to arm themselves with military-grade weapons like they’re preparing for war.

The recent Parkland tragedy mobilized more citizens to act. People are speaking out and their voices aren’t going to be silenced. Thousands of young people and their families are demanding change and they want it now. They want our country to listen to them and take action. They want to feel safe from gun violence in their schools and communities. March for Our Lives demonstrations across the country were inspiring and local organizations like EYEJ provide real opportunities for the youth in this city to voice their opinions on this and other issues of Social Justice. We need to amplify these voices and truly listen.

I don’t want to worry about how quickly my students and I could get to our neighborhood “safe spot,” if our school was next. Most importantly, I don’t want there to be a next.

Jennifer Thomas

EYEJ Board Director – Curriculum Liaison

Cleveland Heights – University Heights Educator