I am distraught and weary. I’ve been teaching in elementary and secondary schools for seven years. In that time, I have seen a multitude of school shootings, considering the ridiculous and seemingly ever-growing number of them since 1999. As tragic as they all have been, two have rocked me to my core: the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, and the massacre that occurred just yesterday in the primarily Latino and Hispanic populated town of Uvalde, Texas.
Undoubtedly, it is the age of the students senselessly killed that has especially affected me. The very idea that 10 years mark when 20 first-graders were slaughtered in their own place of learning — the one place that was supposed to be the safest place they could have been — has led me to tears. The fact that this has happened again, this time to a group of fourth-graders, I am overwhelmed. I am angry that America is still showing itself to be the very thing it has always been: violent, out of control and incapable of protecting even the most innocent among us.
I have written before about the need for sensible public safety measures, namely calling out the lack of direct and effective action toward gun control. So, I will not waste my time harping on that. This piece is simply me utilizing the one faultless outlet, my words, to sort out my emotions at this moment. Because as a Black teacher in America, my emotions are real and raw. It very well could have been me and my classroom.
Every day I journey on the train to work in my underpaid, underserved, under-protected profession teaching my beautiful Black and brown five and six-year-old kindergarten babies. Their unyielding joy and willingness to look to me to teach them about the world has sustained me for going on eight years. I am both grateful and humbled that their parents entrust me to guide their young, budding intellect. But there are times, like after witnessing what occurred at Robb Elementary School, where my heart is so heavy that it’s hard to bear the brunt to push through and forward. But I have to. And I will.
Teachers nationwide bear the impact of so many things and we are expected to help our students prepare for the inevitable — even when we are not prepared ourselves. Very recently, my school took part in an active shooter school drill. Among the pretend mayhem, the very idea that we as an elementary school have to prepare for the possibility that at any sudden moment a crazed person could enter with a semi-automatic weapon, and irreparably ruin families, hit me. I had to take a break.
This was not my first drill. Like many others, I became overwhelmed that we are still having to do this s**t. I tapped into how learning to dodge bullets is still a necessity for our schools in America.
I want to pause here to mention that what happened to those beautiful children in Uvalde is not a case of schools being ill-prepared or teachers not caring enough to take the reality of school-based mass shootings seriously. We call for armed security guards and metal detectors in our schools, for God’s sake. The albeit-begrudging acceptance of over-policing in our schools should prove enough that we care about the well-being and safety of our students, even if it means bypassing our own personal viewpoints of law enforcement and “peacekeeping.” There is plenty of blame to go around; ineffective teachers will never be one of them.
Teachers are worn-out. We are continually forced to jump into crisis mode. In the case of school shootings, we have to add becoming active soldiers in the time of tyranny to the already heavy-laden role of teaching, possibly at the expense of our lives. And if our students shall perish, we risk enduring the burden of overwhelming guilt. And if we should meet our demise, our families are left figuratively and literally heartbroken. Us teachers are tired of being the heroes and our students are tired of being the victims.
I have watched the news hypothesize about what caused the 18-year-old shooting perpetrator to open fire and slaughter elementary-aged students. As usual, discussions regarding mental health care enter the realm of discourse. Listen, I endorse the idea of mental health reform as much as anybody else, however, I need for one glaring elephant in the room to be grabbed by the tusks — guns are part of the problem.
Recently, various Democratic lawmakers, right on cue, hopped on the mantle to disparage the Republican stallers for their recent opposition to gun laws. Even after the racially-motivated carnage at a grocery store in Buffalo, the argument about guns continues. I am doubly exhausted. Although I personally will never give in to fear, nor do I belittle anyone who rightfully possesses overwhelming fear of what it means to be Black and/or to teach (or parent) in America, it is annoying that I cannot do anything without something standing a chance of harming me. It is too much. It is enough. It has been enough.
Enough was enough before Robb and Sandy Hook. It should never have to take young children dying for the needle to move for the banning of (legal) sales of military-style weapons. (Noting, at this point, it is unknown how the gunman at Robb Elementary attained his weapon). The very notion that there are guns of this nature accessible to civilians at all infuriates me. I do not care to enter the debate about protecting one’s livelihood, including their “right” to own said weapons. I repeat, I do not care. I only care about my students; these guns are a direct antithesis to their overall well-being.
So, while I am writing this just so I can possess even a little bit of strength to go right back into the trenches to teach my babies another day, someone in Washington is watching what is going on while also not doing anything about it. I have such a visceral reaction to their actionless “thoughts and prayers,” while the damn National Rifle Association is allowed to continue with their conference plans in Houston this weekend, the same conference that “prayerful” top dogs like Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, and Donald Trump all still planning to attend. Their blatant hypocrisy toward the concern and well-being of kids is part of the very domestic terrorism these gunmen deployed. Considering how coy and money-friendly they are with gun lobbyists, they are pretty much the shooters themselves.
To my fellow educators, be as strong and gentle with yourselves as possible, even if that means not being strong at all. To our students, hold onto us; we still got you — or at least we’ll try.