I’m your kid’s teacher, and I would take a bullet for your child. But I wish you wouldn’t ask me to.
We had an intruder drill today.
I have shepherded children through a lot of intruder drills. I have also, on one memorable occasion, shepherded children through a non-drill. When I was a children’s librarian in a rough suburb, armed men got into a fight in the alley behind our building. We ushered all of the kids - most of whom were unattended - into the basement while we waited for the police.
During intruder drills, some children - from five-year-olds all the way to high school kids - get visibly upset. At one school, the intruder drill included administrators running down the hallways, screaming and banging on lockers to simulate the “real thing.” Kids cry. Kindergartners wet themselves. Teenagers laugh, nudging each other, even as the blood drains from their faces.
Other children handle intruder drills matter-of-factly. “Would the guy be able to shoot us through the door?” they ask, the same way they’d ask a question about their math homework. In some ways, this is worse than the kids who cry. To be so young and so accustomed to fear that these drills seem routine.
And then there are the teachers. There is no way, huddling in a corner with your students, ducking out of view of the windows and doors, to avoid thinking about what happens when it’s not a drill.
People really hate teachers. I don’t take it personally. It actually makes a lot of sense: what other group of professionals do we know so well? How many doctors have you had? How many plumbers? How many secretaries?
Over the course of my public school education, I had at least fifty teachers for at least a year each. So of course some of them were bad. You take fifty people from any profession, and a couple of them are going to be terrible at their job.
So I had a couple of teachers who were terrible, and a few teachers who were amazing, inspirational figures - the kinds of teachers they make movies about.
And then I had a lot of teachers who did a good job. They came to school every day and worked hard. They’d planned our lessons and they graded our papers. I learned what I was supposed to, more or less, even if it wasn’t the most incredible learning experience of my life.
Most teachers fall into that category. I’m sure I do.
Looking at it from the other side, though, I see something that I didn’t know when I was a kid.
Those workhorse teachers who tried, who failed sometimes and sometimes succeeded, who showed up every day and did their jobs: those teachers loved us.
Of course you can never know what you’ll do in the event. That’s what they always say. In the event of an intruder, a fire, a tornado.
You can never know until you know.
But part of what’s so terrifying, so upsetting about an intruder drill as a teacher, is that on some level you do know. You don’t aspire to martyrdom; you’ve never wanted to be a hero. You go home every night to a family that loves you, and you intend to spend the next fifty years with them. You will do everything in your power to hide yourself in that office along with your kids.
But if you can’t.
If you can’t.
When people tell me about why they oppose gun control, I can’t hear it anymore.
I’m from a part of the country where everybody has guns. I used to be really moderate about this stuff, and I am not anymore.
I can’t be.
Every day, I go to work in a building that contains hundreds of children. Every single one of those kids, including every kid that makes me crazy, is a joy and a blessing. They make their parents’ lives meaningful. They make my life meaningful. They are the reason I go to work in the morning, and the reason I worry and plan when I come home.
Parents usually know a handful of kids who are the most wonderful creatures on the planet. I know a couple thousand. It is an incredible privilege, and it is also terrifying. The world is big and scary, and I love so many small people who must go out into it.
So when adults tell me, “I have the right to own a gun”, all I can hear is: “My right to own a gun outweighs your students’ right to be alive.” All I can hear is: “My right to own a gun is more important than kindergarteners feeling safe at school.” All I can hear is: “Mine. Mine. Mine.”
When you are sitting there hiding in the corner of your classroom, you know.
The alternative would be unthinkable.
We live in a country where children are acceptable casualties. Every time someone tells me about the second amendment I want to give them a history lesson. I also want to ask them: in what universe is your right to walk into a Wal-Mart to buy a gun more important than the lives of hundreds of children shot dead in their schools?
Parents send their kids to school every day with this shadow. Teachers live with the shadow. We work alongside it. We plan for it. In the event.
In the event, parents know that their children’s teachers will do everything in their power to keep them safe. We plan for it.
And when those plans don’t work, teachers die protecting their students.
We love your children. That’s why we’re here. Some of us love the subject we teach, too, and that’s important, but all of us love your kids.
The alternative would be unthinkable.
When you are waiting, waiting, waiting for the voice to come on over the PA, telling you that the drill is over, you look at the apprehensive faces around you. You didn’t grow up like this. You never once hid with your teacher in a corner, wondering if a gunman was just around the corner. It is astonishing to you that anyone tolerates this.
And the kids are nervous, but they are all looking to you. You’re their teacher.
They know what you didn’t know, back when you were a kid, back before Columbine. They know that you love them. They know you will keep them safe.
You’re their teacher.
If you are a parent who thinks it’s totally reasonable for civilians to have a house full of deadly weapons, and who accepts the blood of innocent people in exchange for that right, it doesn’t change anything for me. I will love your kid. I will treat you, and your child, the same way I treat everyone else: with all of the respect and the care that is in me.
In the event, I will do everything in my power to keep your child safe.
I just want you to know what you are asking me to do.