There is a rule that many teachers live by, and there are times when it is woefully insufficient: “If you see something, say something. We see something strange in the classroom or around the school, we hear something disturbing, we read something serious, we follow guidelines and protocols. We point it out.
Sometimes it is taken seriously and implemented. Often, principals tell us that if nothing violent or serious has happened, they will take note, but nothing can be done until the student breaks a board rule or policy. school. A disconcerting but enigmatic commentary, a terrifying but enigmatic drawing. Our warnings may end up in a file somewhere until the threat becomes reality.
I reflected on how teachers try to look after their students and can still be powerless to stop the tragedy, when I read in a Facebook group that a student opened fire last week at Oxford High School in Michigan, killing four people and injuring several others. My Facebook group was for teachers like me who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida almost four years ago. I was on campus that day when a former student opened fire, killing 17 people, injuring 17 others and traumatizing an entire community.
As I read the accounts of what happened at Oxford High School, I noticed examples of teachers trying to do the right thing, raising concerns with officials who were supposed to act. But at the same time, teachers are left with the gruesome reality that they can only make one line of defense to protect their students. Once again, a child had access to a deadly weapon. Once again, he was able to bring it to campus.
After 20 years of teaching, I don’t quite understand how teachers are supposed to continue teaching when so much more is demanded of us, often without adequate training and resources. We are meant to be mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, security guards and more for our students. Take a closer look at what happened at Oxford High School.
Hours before the violence there, according to the Oakland County District Attorney, a teacher found a drawing of the 15-year-old who officials said would become the shooter. It showed a person being shot and the words “Blood everywhere”. This led to a meeting with the school officials. (The day before the shooting, a teacher said he saw the second student looking at pictures of ammunition during class; when his mother found him, she texted him saying he had to “learn not to caught. “)
School officials told parents on the morning of the shooting that they should seek advice for their son, according to the prosecutor; the parents didn’t want their son taken out of school, nor did the parents ask him if he had a gun or search his backpack. The teachers then had to bring this student back to their classes. School counselors did not believe, at this point, that the student would harm others, according to the district superintendent.
But it seems clear to me that Oxford High School officials did not take this threat seriously enough. If they had, the student would have been taken off campus. It’s hard to believe that after what happened at my school, others haven’t learned or taken action to protect their campuses from gun violence. How do warning signs still slip through the cracks? How do these calls for help go unanswered? How can school officials put the blame on parents? And how can parents not take responsibility for what led to their son’s actions?
There is little that teachers can do to act as a line of defense for their students.
After filming 2018 in our community, I saw my students’ lives change in an instant. I mourned the loss of their innocence, mourned with them the friends and teachers they lost, and worked to support them when we returned to school. I found myself in the position of a mental health counselor for my students while trying to cope on my own. I sought therapy and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The trauma is debilitating at times, but it’s something I’m learning to live with.
After the attack on my school, teachers and other staff were offered a number of free therapy sessions, but it was not enough. It’s absurd that the neighborhood hasn’t done more for us, given what we’ve been through.
After the Oxford High School news broke, I thought about my dear friend Abbey Clements from Sandy Hook Elementary and her experience. I think of the 17 families in my school. I think of the people I know from Pulse Nightclub and Columbine High School and the directory advisor I was in contact with after the shooting at Saugus High School and the countless others who suffered casualties as a result. gun violence.
As an educator, it’s my job to protect my students and keep them safe. But at what cost ? Immediately after the shooting at my school, the White House offered to arm teachers with handguns. I have publicly explained why arming teachers was (and I think it still is) a terrible idea. If I had had a gun that day and the abuser had entered my classroom, I would not have had time to retrieve it. A handgun is no match for an AR-15.
I do not own a firearm. I don’t fault people for owning guns, as long as they securely secure them and store the ammunition separately. It is the responsibility of the gun owner to secure the gun and keep it out of the reach of children.
Ultimately, we educate students who only know life in the world of school shootings. Lawmakers must pass legislation to protect students, teachers and others from gun violence. The right to own and carry a firearm should not override the right to live in peace and to go to school safely.
Sarah Lerner (@mrs_lerner) is a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and editor of Parkland Speaks, a book of eyewitness accounts and other memorabilia from survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting.
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