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School Nightmares

Reflections on Stoneman Douglass as an educator, a capitalist and a human

I am not a mother- but I have had the incredible honor of being old enough to help raise my little sister. Often I reflect on how much courage it takes to be a parent. To choose to bring a child into the world is to choose to let a part of yourself walk around outside of you. To put all your love and soul into another person is beyond terrifying, because nothing you do can ever keep that part of yourself perfectly safe.

Five years ago a very ill man was able to legally purchase a weapon of war and took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. The day after Sandy Hook as per usual I dropped my sister off at school. As she got out of the car I told her I loved her and instead of speeding off to work like usual I watched her walk up to that building and the door close behind her. Immediately the thought struck me “what if that was the last time I ever saw her”. I called in sick to work that day. Every day afterwards when I dropped my sister off I thought of the Sandy Hook parents. Those parents who did what they had to- leave the love of their lives in the care of others. To love your child means you have to help them navigate this terrifying world, it means you have to let them outside the walls of your protection. For weeks I cried every time I dropped her off. I cried because I got the privilege to drop her off one more time, that for another day we were safe.

I teach at a high school in a part of Seattle that is not unfamiliar with violence. Too many of my students know what gunshots sounds like. I know that too many of my students can get a gun if they wanted to. I also know that the system fails my students. I read student records written by underpaid and overworked adults who interpret my students’ depression and anger as “disrespect”. I read about how the adults who are tasked with caring for and helping raise my students instead blame, punish and forever label them as “special education” because of their behavior. Did you know that? That a student can be labeled “special education” because of misbehavior?

I read these records and it fills me with so much anger and confusion. We have failed these students because when they were sick and needed help we instead tell them they deserve less. We have failed these educators who at one time took this job to make a difference, but are now worn down because we tell them over and over that they aren’t even worth a living wage. We have failed these parents who leave their children with use every day because we are not keeping those children safe.

I hate that now when I tell people about the work I love to do, to work with undeserved students, that people express concern for my safety. I hate even more that it’s something I think about. That I think about the fact that my classroom has only one door and is on the third floor. I think about the fact that anyone can walk into my school at any time of day and walk right into my classroom. I think about how I stand at the front of the room and the entrance to the classroom is at the back- that if someone came through that door I don’t know if I would have the opportunity to get between them and my students. I leave my cellphone in my purse behind the desk in the corner of the room. If for some insane reason I had a weapon of self defense that it would be behind that same desk, far out of reach.

I also work at a large corporation, specifically on a team that sells products to academic institutions. You know what I also think about now? How much fucking money those assholes think they’re going to make by getting educational contracts to issue teachers guns. I think about what sort of twisted logic and hurt a human must have endured to see the unbelievable tragedy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and realize how much money they can make off of spreading that fear. I think about how those who work in the gun industry are products of the same educational system that tells our children that their mental illness is their personal failing. That those that cling to the idea that “a bad guy with a gun is only defeated by a good guy with a gun” must have been taught over and over that this world is dangerous and that our systems cannot protect you.

One day when I was 16 I walked through the double doors to the main building of my high school, on my way to join my friends for lunch. This one day when I opened those doors I saw a friend of mine cradling a weeping boy on the floor outside the library where we normally ate. I saw a teacher standing over them, his hand outstretched, putting distance between himself and the crying boy. It looked as if he was trying to keep a rabid animal at bay and my brain was confused because I could instantly see the pain and desperation flowing out of him, that he wasn’t dangerous, that he was hurt. Then I noticed that behind the teacher there was a gun on the floor. As my brain registered “there’s a gun” I was rushed into a nearby classroom. For hours we sat in that classroom as it filled with other scared and confused students. What is happening? Why are we on lock down? What is going to happen to the boy? Where is the gun now? I sent a text message to my dad. I told him there was a gun at school, but that I was safe. I got to tell my dad I was going to see him again. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be one of the MSDH students who had to send a very very different message, to be one of the parents who read those messages and realized their worst nightmares were reality. To be one of the parents who didn’t even get a last goodbye.

That boy at my school was very ill. The gun had no bullets in it, but he had held it to his temple and declared that he wanted to die. He was expelled. I never found out what happened to him. We were never spoken to about what happened. For weeks I had nightmares about piles of dead bodies.

I’m writing this today because I have been having nightmares again. Nightmares of running through the halls of my school, hearing gunshots, not being able to find my students. Nightmares that my sister’s university might be the next Virgina Tech, that she is trapped in a classroom listening to gunshots while she writes me her goodbye in a text message. I dream that I get the message too late.

The only way I can get the nightmares to stop is to dive in. To understand what the hell everyone actually means when they use buzzwords like “common sense gun control”. To understand what would have actually prevented any of these sick men from becoming murders. To understand why white men get to be called “sick” and men of color are “terrorists” or “thugs”. To understand how we can help the sick and get teachers the resources they actually need, and keep the gun industry from profiteering off our fear. Can we fix even one of the problems that is turning the children we are supposed to protect into murderers and victims. I hope you dive in too.

In the mean time here is a list of all your representatives that took money from the NRA:

And here is a way to find the phone numbers of each representative on that list:

It’s time we start letting them know we’re paying attention. When I was 16 eventually the nightmares stopped and I forgot about what had happened. After Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and UCSB and Umpqua and even in my own backyard, Marysville, we moved on, we failed. The surviving students of MSDH have given us an incredible gift, the inability to move on. This gift is costing them their time to grieve, their peace, their privacy and in some cases their safety. We owe them better, we owe the victims better, I owe my students better. I promise there is more to come.

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