Five years ago, I found myself in a unique situation. I was 22-years-old, teaching a bunch of sixteen and seventeen-year-old high school students. I was halfway through my student teaching experience. I was sleep deprived and a bit cocky. I thought I was much more mature than I was until I faced my most shameful moment.
It was a typical morning. I was walking down the hall to the teacher’s lounge around 7 AM. I was throwing my Lean Cuisine in the fridge and would proceed to prep the classroom. I glanced up from proofreading my lesson plan to see a student with what at that moment I believed to be a gun. My heart stopped. Noise disappeared. I was petrified.
At that moment, I had a choice, a choice deeply ingrained into my psychological makeup: fight or flight.
Without even a pause, I found myself running to the teacher’s lounge. As soon as I arrived, I realized I made a mistake. I threw the Lean Cuisine on the table and ran back out after the student. I found him in seconds, and he was showing his friends something he made on a 3D printer for their engineering class. It was not a gun. There was no threat.
Still, this doesn’t change that I ran. When confronted with that situation, I made the wrong choice. As a teacher, part of the job description is advocacy, protection, and kindness. Had that been a gun (and God-willing, it was not), in those fleeting moments, a gun could have gone off and someone shot–or worse, killed. I failed that day as a teacher.
The rest of the day I found myself racked with guilt. Deep guilt. My studies and grades were worth jack if I couldn’t protect those entrusted to me.
I went home and sobbed to my husband, and then I pivoted. I decided to be aware in every moment. I decided if that opportunity presented itself, I would run toward the gun. I would stop the violence. I would choose my students over myself.
I studied up on the school’s protocols and the state’s. Nothing in my training as a teacher taught me what to do if confronted by a shooter.
As a teacher, I cannot entirely blame guns for the increasing amount of school shootings. Nor, can I entirely blame teachers, schools, parents, politicians…
What I can say is that we need to be more aware. We need to look up and around us. We need to act as stewards of the future. We need better training and greater humanity. We need programs in place for the mentally ill. We need stronger processes than what is currently in place. Teachers need better preventative tools (I’ve taught in schools where I couldn’t even lock the classroom door in an emergency).
This–right now–this is our fight-or-flight moment.
As a mother and as a teacher, today, I choose to fight.