The following is a guest post by Greg O’Loughlin
We teachers are hearing and feeling this news differently than most. If you are a teacher and you are feeling like this is all hitting more acutely, please know that you’re not imagining it. The shock and trauma of it all is shared by anyone who hears of the horror that is our national nightmare of gun violence compounded by politicians and leaders who seemingly live with acceptable levels of slaughtered children. But for us – we who hold other peoples’ children in our hearts, we who see other people’s children in our dreams, we who carry other people’s children in our minds when we eat, walk, or try against all odds to take a break, events like yesterday’s impact us differently.
We can picture ourselves in the classroom, in the hallways, hiding in our closets with our students. We refresh our memories of the countless active shooter drills we do during inservice and throughout the school year. We wonder how we would/will react if/when the unspeakable happens. We know these feelings and have the muscle memory of these actions more than anyone else in society. We who chose majors because we wanted to help kids learn how to decode, add, research, and create. We who chose jobs that do not pay enough for the work listed in the job description, let alone pay enough for work that’s actually needed to get the job done. We who chose jobs that include coaching our kids through heartbreaks, runny noses, embarrassing moments, celebrations, crises, and loss. Those are our kids.
We feel differently about this than people who didn’t make similar choices. It hurts more. It’s scarier.
Teachers, we are not alone, and it is OK to feel like there’s something missing. There is something missing. The respect for the lives of the children we teach. Love for the humanity of the students we help grow. Acknowledgement of the role teachers play in development of safety in the hearts and minds of children that then gets shattered due to the actions of murderers, made easier by the actions of leaders who make access to assault weapons even easier, access to mental health and healthcare even harder, and inaction of leaders who wait for things to blow over. There is not a correct way to feel right now.
In response to previous slaughter of school children, the nation and our schools were stunned into circles, reflection, and extra access to therapists and counselors. Our leaders have failed us to such a degree that such slaughter is no longer unique enough to provide such essential emotional support. So again, in the face of a systemic failure to provide teachers with what they need to complete the task at hand, we’ll need to dig deep. We’ll need to seek support and resources from our colleagues, friends, family, and one another. We are left to create the supports our students need to explore their feelings and fears about the ways in which our leaders have let us down and failed to protect us.
What has become clear is that no one is coming to save us. Politicians who are empowered to make change that might stop this slaughter of our children are either incapable or unwilling to take action for countless reasons: an unwillingness to upset their donors, an unwillingness to take risks, an unwillingness to give the enemy a ‘weapon’ to use during midterms – none of those address the fear or stop the bleeding.
In the months and years after the Sandy Hook massacre teachers experienced a seismic shift in our practices, work, and behaviors in school settings. In addition to the planning, instruction, assessment, and analysis of decoding, research, and addition, we had to learn how to barricade doors with our classroom chairs and desks. (We learned which chairs made it harder to open the door from the outside). We had to learn how to stop bullet holes from bleeding with tampons. (We made jokes about it in the hopes that it would help make the experience less bleak). We had to learn how to dress wounds. We had to learn how to keep our children quiet while an admin playing the part of a gunman stalked the halls and tried to overcome our barricades. We had to keep an emergency kit of gloves, tourniquets, bandages, and blood-stopper well stocked. Surely, we thought, lockdown drills were a temporary measure while leadership figured out a plan to stop the massacre of children. The last 10 years have demonstrated that it is not the case, that there is an acceptable number of slaughtered children before action might be taken by politicians and people whose job it is to regulate the threats to our safety and the safety of children. That there is an acceptable amount of the blood of kids before anyone else will do anything. Because to be clear: teachers did do something.
Teachers changed the way we taught, changed the way we talked, changed the way we did our seating charts, changed the way our windows looked, changed the way our doors looked, changed the way we spoke about violence, changed the way we spoke about what to do in very scary situations, changed the way we addressed the notion of murder with children, and so much more. Teachers acted swiftly and immediately to address the trauma inflicted upon us and upon our students by both gun violence and by ineffectual leadership that lacks initiative, creativity or willpower. So, let’s be clear: it is not that there was no action in response. Teachers acted swiftly, decisively, and in ways that were traumatic and effective.
We are all we have. Isolation, disconnection, dismemory, a sense of powerlessness reinforced by talking heads and mealy-mouthed editorials all serve the forces that seek to make this murder of children another headline and another news cycle. We can make efforts to slow it down by connecting with our neighbors, by connecting with our colleagues, by reducing isolation, and by working together. If you are not yet a member of your teacher’s union or association, you should become one now. If you are not yet a member of a professional organization that meets regularly to check in on your health and well-being you should join one now. If you are not spending time with your colleagues to address the ways in which you can help each other through times of celebration as well as times of trauma you should do so now. It is yet again us who are devising and creating solutions to the problems caused by the failure of leadership and a system that cares more about test scores and money than the humanity of ourselves and of our students. No one is coming to save us, and we’re better together.
Greg O’Loughlin is a teacher and the founding Director of The Educators’ Cooperative (EdCo), an independent nonprofit that serves as a mutual aid network of support, development, and resources for and by ALL teachers. Learn more about him and the work of EdCo at www.educatorscooperative.org
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