Five Years Later.

Five years ago, I was wrapping up my first year teaching third grade at Parkwood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina. It seemed like any other day — I was running copies in the morning, going through social studies lessons about different winter holidays in the afternoon, wrangling kids from recess to the cafeteria to specials. Once the last child in my class got on the bus, I looked at my phone and saw a couple missed calls and a text from my younger brother.

“hey, are you okay? I love you”

I read the text and thought, Well this is both nice and strange.

Before I could even put my phone down, another teacher on my hallway came into my room and told me about what happened at Sandy Hook.

We spent some time together processing, reading some online news articles and checking Twitter feeds for more updated information before I had to pack up my stuff and go babysit for the evening. I didn’t have cable in my apartment, so when I put the kids to bed I turned on the television. I’m not a huge television watcher, but knowing what had happened in Massachusetts earlier in the day had me wanting to turn on the news.

Every single news channel flashed faces on the screen. Photos of families, love, and unity; children with their siblings, in soccer uniforms and dance gear and smiles.

I felt a deep, all-encompassing sadness. Tears welled in my eyes and barreled down my face as I wept silently for the 20 children and six educators who were gunned down in their own school.

“hey, are you okay? I love you” had a new meaning.

It meant that my brother, and many others in the world, realized that teaching is more than just disseminating content to children; it’s also keeping children safe at whatever cost.

I considered this during every lockdown drill my school ran after Sandy Hook. There were windows by the door coming into my classroom — how was I going to cover that up so people couldn’t see inside? My classroom was right next to an external door — how could I be sure that a random person from the outside wouldn’t just enter the building? Even after I left Parkwood, the thoughts still persisted.

In my second year teaching, I taught in an old building that was constructed in the 1960s. We had a lockdown drill and the lock didn’t work on my classroom door. The handle jiggled as I sat silently with my third graders lined up against the wall of my classroom library, and in an instant the police officer applied just enough pressure to push open the door. I stopped breathing and my heart skipped a beat. I closed my eyes to pause for a moment emotionally. I debriefed the situation with my kids, telling them that it was good to learn about the lock now rather than later, that the principal would have someone come out to fix my door as soon as possible. A student asked what would have happened if that wouldn’t have been a drill.

I explained that my top priority was their safety first, and then their education, that this is why we have drills — so we can practice what would happen in times of danger. We outlined the path where we would run if needed and where students could hide. I felt cracks form in my heart with every word I had to use to reply to their questions about their feelings of safety at school.

If that would have been reality, a duplication of Sandy Hook, a repeated Adam Lanza circumstance, I would have done everything in my power to keep my kids safe. I would have ushered them outside to the field, I would have fought with everything in me against any offender, I would shield those children with my life to keep them safe.

This is my first year out of a classroom and I still feel that way about all of my students who have graced my rosters in the last five years.

With the high number of school shootings and overall violence in the United States, the cracks in my heart continue to deepen knowing that children are entering school buildings where they may feel unsafe. It is my sincerest hope that we can make good, sound policy surrounding things like gun control and bullying so that kids can feel like school is a safe place, and it is my sincerest hope that we do not become numb to these happenings.

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Sandy Hook.

Crimes against children absolutely enrage me. Any injustice that is done to a child, I take it very personally because of my passion for children and my profession of teaching.

I found out about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut after school around 4pm. Actually, the first I saw of any shooting today was on Twitter when I noticed the hashtagged trending topic of #CTshooting when my students were tweeting at the end of the day. The librarian walked down the hallway and proceeded to tell my third grade team what happened in Newtown this morning. Needless to say, we were appalled.

There were a couple reasons for our shock. First of all, someone murdered children in their school, a place where they should feel safe. Secondly, we the teachers were never given any information about this tragedy during the school day. I was surprised to know that our administration (even our district leaders) failed to inform me of something so serious that happened in an elementary school in our nation.

Reading articles and watching the news and hearing interviews with teachers, I couldn’t help but think what I would have done in a similar situation. I understand the process of a lockdown, as I have been trained on what to do in the past, but how do I know what my instincts will tell me to do? Am I really going to remember putting a colored card in my window? Where is the safest place in my new classroom to take my 23 students? Am I truly qualified for this kind of crisis management? At what lengths would I go to keep my children safe?

Tonight I babysat after school for a little boy who is in kindergarten. While we were playing with Legos, all I could think about was how there are families in Newtown who won’t ever get to play Legos or just have a conversation with their children again. These people are parents — they’re families. They’ve bought their children Christmas presents and had so much more life to look forward to with them. Now, all of a sudden, those dreams are gone and their children are still lying on the ground of that school in pools of dried blood, in the same building as their killer.

The thought of this absolutely makes me cringe and hurt and cry, and the pit in my stomach does nothing but widen. My chest tightens as I contemplate the others walking out of their elementary school to refuge, past their little friends drenched in death, not knowing who would come out of the building alive.

I don’t understand how a man like this made his way into a school. I don’t understand why this man brought an assault rifle and two other guns to a school. I don’t understand the motivation behind murdering innocent children, and I don’t think I ever want to understand the sick and twisted mentality a person must have to slaughter kindergarteners. I don’t understand how this man got to such a deeply dark place to where he thought this act was acceptable. All this does is remind me how prevalent evil is in this world, and how desperately we need a Savior.

While taking all of this in and making attempts to process it, I realized something: there really isn’t much of a security system in place at my school. We are a pretty large elementary school campus with five buildings, and all of those doors stay unlocked. Virtually anyone could walk into any of those buildings at any given point during the day. I keep my room locked, but I couldn’t start doing that until a week or so ago when my new key came in and also because of the little stealing problem we had recently. A few weeks ago, the interim principal called a meeting for the staff concerning her desire to purchase a security system for the school. Now more than ever do I support this idea. At the school where I student taught, we used key fobs to get into the buildings; all the doors were always locked until you used the fob to gain access to another building. To me, this is a good safety measure.

It absolutely breaks my heart. Seriously, I can’t even focus and I will probably have a hard time sleeping tonight. I’m so glad that I don’t have to go to school tomorrow and try to explain this to my kids. I’m anxious about the questions they’ll have for me come Monday morning. I came across this link on Twitter earlier, and was able to find a semblance of a sense of peace in reading it. All of this is just so scary, and not just for kids, but for adults, too. I’ve heard people say on the news that this isn’t a common occurrence and that we need to let our kids know that, but I can’t help but think that this is something that is becoming more normal to which our children are being exposed.

Think about it. The glorification of guns and violence in movies is probably at an all-time high. I have third graders in my class who have seen The Dark Knight Rises, which, though it was a good movie, is not something an eight-year-old should see (at least in my opinion). I bear witness to students “play fighting” at recess and making guns out of snap cubes. Something about our culture is letting them know that this behavior is acceptable.

I don’t have extended cable at my apartment, so the majority of the news I saw concerning this tragedy was after my babysitting child went to bed. I saw clips of President Obama’s address to the nation and was moved. It’s so humbling to hear a man of his position talking to his constituents not as an authority figure, but as one of us — a parent, a family member, a human being who cares about the life of children.

I decided to teach because I want to create lifelong learners. I want to foster positive relationships between all. I want to establish a safe classroom community where students feel comfortable. I want to give children the opportunity to get out of a bad situation, because through education, any future is possible. As teachers, we have such a great and weighty responsibility to other people’s children. We must keep them safe at all costs, not only because parents trust us to do so, but because that is ultimately why we do what we do. Though I am still very deeply saddened at this event, I am also inspired by the valiant efforts of the teachers at Sandy Hook — their top priority was the care of children.

Even though classroom times have been frustrating and tough these last few weeks before Christmas, I need to continue to remember to have patience and compassion for these students (which is hard when they’re bouncing off the walls and not following directions). In an interview with a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook, she mentioned that she told her students that she loved them because she didn’t want the last thing they heard to be gunshots. She stated that she wasn’t completely sure if that was appropriate to do, but she did it regardless since she was unsure as to whether or not they would come out alive. To me, I find it appropriate to express my feelings to my students. I do love them, and I tell them that collectively. Children know when you care, and I can’t imagine a more crucial time for students to know that their teacher cares for them than in a time of dire emergency.

As I look to next week, I plan to make it a point to hug every child and to tell them how wonderful the world is for having them in it; there is no better time than to remind them of this than the present. I want them to journal and ask questions, and I pray that I will be a stable rock for them in this time of looming insecurity. I want us all to be inexplicably grateful for the lives we have and the people we touch every day.

Teachers, let us rise to our calling and affirm our students daily, reinforcing the idea that they are safe, they have a purpose, and that they are loved.