On the last day of this school year, we had a lockdown at my school.
I teach at an elementary charter school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Albuquerque has no shortage of gun violence, and I hardly even flinch anymore when I hear a sound that could be a gunshot, or a firework, at night.
I have also been through countless active shooter drills with students, in-person or online training with other members of the school staff, and even a realistic simulation with the local police department. I know the drill. When we hear, “code red lockdown,” over the loudspeaker, it’s time to lock both classroom doors, cover the interior window, and huddle away from the door.
Lockdown: Not a Drill this Time
But on that last day of school, I knew it wasn’t a drill. The class was watching “A Bug’s Life,” a wonderful Disney movie about insects working together to fight their bullies, and the students were eating snacks, whispering, and finishing crafts around the room. Then, a student came back into the classroom from the hallway, clearly shaken. The vice principal had just ushered her out of the hallway, and kids were yelling.
The Vice Principal peeked her head into my room and said, “go to lockdown.” My companion teacher and I exchanged glances. I’m sure we were thinking of the shooting that had recently taken place in Uvalde, Texas, about 700 miles away.
Arming the Teachers is not an Adult Response to a Lockdown or an Active Shooter
After shootings, disingenuous people talk about arming teachers to protect their students, without thinking through what that means. And I haven’t read a lot of opinions from teachers themselves. But here’s mine: please don’t ask me to die for your child. Nor to kill for your child. If I were armed, and a shooter broke through the door, and entered my classroom that day, I would raise the weapon with shaky hands. I would pull the trigger fighting back tears. I would feel my heart beating through my chest as I emptied the clip. To see that I had just shot the wrong person.
If, by some miracle, I had stopped the shooter before they could hurt me or my students, I would not remember to get on my knees and put my hands behind my head before the police storm in, seconds later. Likely I would not remember how to show the officers that I was the teacher, and not the shooter; I might be frozen in fear. I might get shot by mistake. And then later called a hero for saving the kids.
Why Train the Teachers as Cops?
I hope and pray that, in a life or death situation, I would have the strength to do what’s needed to be done. But how can I be sure of that, when the trained officers in Uvalde didn’t?
Is it easier to train a teacher to be a police officer? Or to train a police officer to be a teacher? Do we even want to combine these roles? Public servants like teachers, police, firemen and women, nurses, and elected officials all have different and important jobs. The time, training, and experience it takes to do these different jobs well can’t be understated. Do you want your dentist to perform your open-heart surgery? A jack-of-all trades is a master of none.
After the Lockdown: Back to “Normal”
After the lockdown was lifted, it was communicated to us that there was, in fact, someone discharging their weapon at the park down the street. Near where the fifth grade class was doing Physical Education that day. The class ran back to school, informed the front desk. Administrators quickly locked down the school and informed local police. In hindsight, my class was in no real danger that day.
I understand that unpredictable things will happen in life. And that we have to do our best each day to handle what is thrown at us. I handle fallen-out teeth, broken pencils, low self-esteem, angry parents, defiant children, and more. Every day. Like a pro.
I am Well Trained… But for What?
I know CPR. I was actually EMT-B certified in college. And, while my certification has expired, I am proud to have life-saving knowledge in my back pocket in case something unexpected happens.
I had no problem telling a stranger on the bus to step away from one of my students, while we were on the way to our field trip. I have had hard conversations with parents about their child’s progress, where I had to defend the steps I took before recommending a child stay back a grade. Finishing my fifth year teaching, I finally feel competent in asserting myself in whatever capacity is necessary to protect the kids in my class, and help them reach their full potential.
I am not a physically intimidating woman. I stand exactly five feet tall, and weigh a little over a hundred pounds. Fifth graders at my school are bigger than me. My strength as a teacher comes from knowing when to use the “scary voice,” and when to whisper, so the kids lean in closer to listen. During the lockdown, I knew that my job was to keep the students calm. Let them know that everything would be alright. And keep them safe. After the lockdown, I listened to them talk about their fears, and answered their questions, again assuring them that the adults in their lives will always do what we can to protect them.
What a Teacher is and is Not
It was the last day of school before summer break, so I gave out the “End of Year Awards” I had prepared with glitter and colored pens, passed out some projects to take home, and released them to their parents. After the summer break, I’ll be ready to do it all over again. All the lesson planning, grading, emailing, reading, field trip planning, volunteer coordinating, class pet feeding, crying, and laughing, in the unpaid hours after school that it takes to teach well.
But I am not ready to stand up against an assault rifle. I will not trade high-quality lessons for more time in the shooting range. Parents, community members, senators, everyone: before you ask me, or my fellow educators, to carry the tremendous responsibility of a handgun, consider what can be done to stop the gunman before he gets to my classroom. Maybe we should make it harder for irresponsible people to get deadly weapons in the first place. Let me be the master at my craft, the job I signed up for and put my heart and soul into. Let me mean it, when I tell students that the brave, amazing police officers of Albuquerque will be here when we need them.