It wasn’t always like this, I tell my students. They know nothing else. Born after 9/11 and during a stretch of unbroken war, my students are inured to school shootings. Like any teacher, I feel a deep connection to my classes. Each student has bright potential and I am privileged to be in the classroom with them. When we talk about gun violence, my voice cracks. It’s hard seeing these sweet faces looking up at me, these young people who impress me every day with their ability and their resilience. We bond in a classroom. We lean on shared experience. Here we are learning from each other, and I am heartbroken.
I have a heartbreak I can’t shake that has been with me since Valentine’s. I can’t shake anymore how normalized these so very not normal events are. I lay awake at night, planning. I plan all sorts of things. I plan what to do with the desks and chairs. I plan which wall I should herd the class onto. I even plan listening for a break in the terror. I plan considering waiting for a reload as a chance to stop bullets from shattering more walls and dreams. Early on as a teacher, I experienced sleepless nights while I planned. I planned free writes. I planned connections to readings, with the hope that even the one student in the far corner would perk up and pay attention. I planned alternative plans for the classroom, just in case I wasn’t speaking the right language at the right time. Now I plan for things I can’t imagine. I plan for events for which I have zero training, for which I want zero training. I would be naïve to ignore these thoughts, but I also don’t want them.
In higher education faculty are, to an extent, replaceable. There are always qualified teachers coming down the pike. As higher education shoulders increasing costs, tough decisions have to be made, and I fear for the future of it all. I fear for our students, for our teachers, and for our institutions. If we live in a time where money can be found to train and arm teachers instead of recruiting and keeping teachers, then we will lose something dear that we may never get back. When I look around my classroom after these events, I know why my voice cracks and why my tears refuse to be suppressed. It’s not the trauma I fear as much as a changing system that continues to miss the point.
Who knows how any of this nonsense ends. I will be two things at once though. I will stay heartbroken for a while, but I will also be resilient because I am surrounded by some of the best examples of toughness. I am speaking about my students, of course. Maybe I am reminding myself that things can be different when I say to them, it wasn’t always like this.