I can’t remember which school shooting it was. Those events now seem to flow seamlessly from one state to another and from one week to another, but it was back in the days when it was rare enough that a school shooting still received wall-to-wall media coverage for several days.
We had just practiced a shooter drill and a young middle school teacher admitted that she worried every day that a shooter would come into our school.
“I look at my students and I wonder if one of them is going to be the one to bring a gun into the school.”
“I did not know how to respond,” she continued. “I don’t know how I would handle it. I don’t know how anybody handles it.”
Though Joplin, Missouri had not had any school shootings involving a fatality, our town of 50,000 had just barely avoided the kind of horrifying murder spree that took place in Parkland, Florida on a day, Valentine’s Day, that will never again be associated with love in that community.
In October 2006, a middle school student brought an assault rifle to Memorial Middle School, fired a shot into the roof, and then pointed his gun at a brave principal. Thankfully, the gun jammed and no one was killed or injured.
Though I taught in a different middle school several blocks from Memorial, we were placed on lockdown as a precaution and students in our school were receiving text messages from those at Memorial. A school shooting was something we thought could never happen in Joplin.
Twelve years later, we know it can happen anywhere.
Apparently, the training teachers, staff, and students used in Parkland to prepare for such a possibility was similar to what we practiced in Joplin. We held frequent drills throughout the school year. In some, we practiced leaving the school, if an opportunity presented itself in such a situation.
In others, we went through procedures that came back to me as I watched the coverage of the Parkland murders. We locked the doors and cleared the hallways and if someone knocked we did not let that person in until we were signaled that all was clear.
A chill went down my spine when I read in an article on the CNN website that Scott Beizel, 35, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School geography teacher lost his life when he was shot while trying to lock the door to his classroom to protect his students.
I remembered the difficulty I had locking the door to my eighth grade English classroom the last time I went through such a drill five years ago.
Another teacher and coach, Aaron Feis, 37, was killed as he shielded students.
These are the same type of stories we heard following the Sandy Hook shooting.
Thankfully, most of the teachers who gave their all to protect their students did not die Wednesday.
Teachers have a natural instinct to protect their children, even those we fear may be school shooters in training.
Though they are not obsessed with the thought, there is probably not a teacher in the United States who does not think about the possibility of someone bringing an AR-15 into his or her school.
Having left the classroom a few years ago, I no longer have those fears, but I still worry about my former colleagues and all others who take on the thankless job of being a classroom teacher.
Who is going to protect them as they do their best to protect their students?
Certainly not our president. The one thing that school shootings have in common is guns, but not according to the statement Donald Trump delivered today.
“To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you,” the president said. “Whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain.”
Trump spoke words that would have struck a chord had they been accompanied by a realistic assessment of a situation that exists only in this country.
“No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.”
How wonderful it would have been if those words had been followed by a pledge to work toward a solution to the problem of people having easy access to guns that are more suited to military purposes.
But the president, the same president who signed a bill last year that made it easier for people with mental issues to be able to buy guns, blamed the shooting and for that matter, all school shootings, on mental health.
Trump was not alone in avoiding the situation. Leaders in the House and Senate spoke the same words they speak each time there is a school shooting or a mass killing such as the one that took place at a country music concert in Las Vegas.
It is too soon to talk about policy.
Our prayers are with the families.
We can’t do anything that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights.
So the killings continue.
Trump knows who can help the Parkland high school students cope with their situation.
“If you need help, turn to a teacher,” he said, “or family member, a local police officer or a faith healer.”
He did not say it and perhaps he did not need to say it, but whatever you do, don’t turn to your president or any of the other politicians who are unwilling to cross the National Rifle Association.
When politicians have offered solutions, they are not ones that teachers embrace. Some have blithely suggested that teachers carry guns into the classrooms.
Is that really what our nation has come to? Is there so little respect for all of the work and sacrifices that classroom teachers do?
So thanks for your prayers, Mr. President and all of those who insist that is the best they can do whenever school shootings occur. Thanks, but no thanks.
In Parkland, at Sandy Hook, and other places where the safety and sanctity of schools have been interrupted by weapons that should never be in the hands of civilians, teachers have shown their willingness to sacrifice everything for their students, including their lives.
The least you can do is provide some backbone to go along with your prayers.