In the wake of another senseless school tragedy, my heart is heavy and mind swirling. The question of “Why?” will never fully be answered; the tears never fully dry.
When the Columbine shooting happened, I was 16. That summer I went on a mission trip to Russia and learned that Rachel Scott (one of the Columbine victims) was scheduled to make that trip with the same mission organization. I remember feeling responsible for doing the things that Rachel would never be able to accomplish – I had never met her, but her death greatly impacted me. After April 20, 1999, I entered my classrooms looking for the quickest exits and hiding spots…just in case.
My first teaching job came three years after my enlistment into the Air National Guard. I have the unique perspective of being a teacher and member of the military – it’s impossible for me to separate the two ideas of thought; my training as an educator follows me to the base, and my military training follows me into the classroom. That particular school routinely practiced fire drills and shelter-in-place drills. Every single student and teacher knew the routine: lock the door, lights off, huddle silently in the corner.
I taught at my last school four years – never once did we have a shelter-in-place drill. Fortunately, I knew what to do with the kids, and by the grace of God we never needed to do it. I was routinely bothered by the fact that we never practiced those drills, so I would run through practice scenarios with my classes at the beginning of each year. I even showed them a DVD about what to do in case there was an active shooter in our school. They knew to smear hand soap on the tile floors if they were trapped in a bathroom – it would cause whoever entered to slip, giving them a chance to escape. My students were aware that the outdated computer in the corner could bust out the window, leading them out of the classroom without having to use the door. They were also under strict orders not to practice any of those maneuvers. I viewed school doors as ECPs (entry control points) and every now and then I’d double-check that the outside doors near my room were indeed locked.
I wholeheartedly understand that there is little I can do as an educator to keep my students 100% safe in the event some evil person is hell-bent on death and destruction. I raised my right hand and swore to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath follows me wherever I go, especially into the classroom. Most teachers are not members of the military, yet I know the vast majority of them won’t hesitate to lay down their lives to protect their students. This is evident with each passing tragedy.
While my time as a public educator is over, I will forever cherish the relationships forged with my students and fellow teachers. As a new parent, I’m keenly aware that my son will one day join the ranks of public school. I’ve considered homeschooling him for a few years, but I feel it’s important for him to be among his peers at some point in his academic career. It will be my mission to support his teachers and walk alongside them in his education. I will do everything in my power to keep him safe – and what I cannot physically do, I trust that God will.
I pray for hope and healing among the victims’ families. I grieve with them and hurt for them. I pray safety over my family of educators and our children. I take comfort in Psalm 147:3, knowing that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” I am grateful that this world is not my home.