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I’m a teacher. We’re always just waiting for our school to be next

This is what it’s like to be a public school teacher in the age of mass shootings.

Twenty-one. Twenty-one individual hopes, dreams and aspirations silenced forever. Why does this keep happening? Schools are supposed to be safe, nurturing environments for our children to grow and discover their unique interests, not environments where we wonder if we will ever see our children again. They should not be environments where we are required to teach active-shooter drills along with reading, writing and arithmetic, yet this is the reality of the education system today. 

I am a high school teacher in Maryland. Each day, I am trusted with 150 individual students in my care. Each year, I pride myself in building relationships with my students and getting to know them. I see future teachers, lawyers, plumbers, doctors, social workers — students with dreams they want to actively pursue. We share laughs, stories, prom proposals and breakups. We celebrate each other’s achievements and encourage everyone to do their best. But we also share fear. Fear that one day, we might also have to experience the horror that unfolded at Columbine High School in Colorado; in Sandy Hook, Connecticut; in Parkland, Florida; and now, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

After each school shooting, I see the fear and anxiety well up in my students’ eyes. I see part of their innocence being ripped away from them as they process the sad truth that is their reality. I will often open the floor for my students to process their emotions and share their feelings. We walk through “what if” scenarios, with the sincere hope that we will never have to follow them. 

 

After each school shooting, I see the fear and anxiety well up in my students’ eyes. I see part of their innocence being ripped away from them as they process the sad truth that is their reality.

On Wednesday, the day after the shooting in Uvalde, one of my students tearfully asked me what would happen if we had a school shooting. He asked how he would protect his sister, who was in a separate part of our campus. I began reviewing our ALICE protocol for active shooters (it stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate), talking about each letter in the acronym and how we would implement it, based on the shooter’s location, etc. It shouldn’t be this way. Students should be worried about an upcoming exam, preparing for prom, getting their driver’s license — not worrying about what to do when we experience a school shooting. 

As I talk with my fellow colleagues, the anxiety and fear are palpable. Educators are trained to deliver instruction and to develop skills to prepare our students for success in college or career, not to effectively navigate a legitimate battlefield where we must disarm assailants or become human shields against any incoming bullets. We all see the elephant in the room — school shootings — but we all agree that not enough is being done to protect us and to protect our students. 

"Will today be the day I receive a text from my 16-year-old daughter where she tells me there is a shooter on her high school campus ?" Christine DeLucry writes.
"Will today be the day I receive a text from my 16-year-old daughter where she tells me there is a shooter on her high school campus ?" Christine DeLucry writes.Courtesy Christine DeLucry

Educators are at our breaking point. Instead of thoughts and prayers, we need action. I invite lawmakers to visit any public school in the U.S. and see firsthand the fear and anxiety that our students, educators, staff and administration are dealing with daily. I invite lawmakers to sit down and talk with my students and hear their valid fears. Listen to their dreams. Talk to them about their hopes for the future. And then work together to enact real, tangible change.  

How many more children must die before something is done? Every day, I worry if today will be the day that I don’t return home to my husband and daughter. Will today be the day that my school will have a school shooting? Will today be the day that the hopes, dreams and aspirations of one or more of my students will be silenced forever? Will today be the day I receive a text from my 16-year-old daughter where she tells me there is a shooter on her high school campus and she is scared? Will today be the day? Or will it be tomorrow?