The Wrong Kind of Arms

As a schoolteacher, mother, citizen and human, my heart broke when I learned of the Tennessee school shooting last night. The fact that it took so long for the news to reach me seems to indicate just how common these tragedies have become. I ache for Evelyn, Hallie, William, Cynthia, Katherine and Mike and the fear and bravery they must have known and shown in their final moments. These beings are irreplaceable and their deaths can only leave a gaping hole in their families, communities and school. Those who bore witness will surely be haunted for the rest of their days.

We talk about mental health, social and emotional wellbeing and gun control, but it seems very little is changing to prevent these tragedies. What IS changing is my perspective. These invasions and killings are with me every morning when I enter my school. At any given time, I am responsible for anywhere from 2 to 25 children 10 and under. For the first time in my 25 year career, I have to think with my trauma mind about what I would do if. I have started keeping my cell phone with me at all times. Our classroom closet is our “safe space,” but it is jam packed with supplies, between my accumulated resources and my roommate’s. Can we all fit inside comfortably and quietly? Should we consider moving materials elsewhere to make for a better shelter? The closet door has no lock, so I imagine moving the tall metal file cabinet in front to prevent entry…and bullets. I remind myself that I’ll want to check the hallways to grab any students who are there and bring them inside to safety. I’ve drawn an arrow above my lock with a Sharpie to show which direction I turn the key to lock in case panic takes that sense from me. I think about the little faces that will look to me with terror and how I will calm them. In all my years, this is not what I planned for.

For many of our students, school is the safest place they know. It offers structure, consistency, expectations, two meals and a snack, kindness and caring. When the summer break begins, some students cry because they will miss this stable environment as they enter into full time unpredictability. The fact that a structure that contains some of our most vulnerable humans, and those who are nurturing them, has become an all too frequent target, just blows my mind. The hugs of teachers and classmates are the only arms our children should ever know.

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