A Teacher’s Thoughts on Tragedy

I didn’t hear about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School at 9:30 yesterday morning until near the end of of my school day. A colleague told me during my prep, then a few students came in to tell me. Perhaps they did so because they knew how much I was affected by the story about the seven year old who was accidentally shot and killed by his father last weekend (I had tears in my eyes when I talked about it on Monday. My son is the same age as that boy…). I think they wanted to warn me before I turned on the radio in my car on the drive home. I love sometimes that my students want to protect me as much as I want to protect them.

I didn’t turn on the radio right away. I came home and got ready for us to go to a Christmas party. I didn’t spend much time on the internet or social media to see what was being said by parents, teachers, politicians, and reporters until we were on our way home again. I don’t regret that. There still, almost 24 hours later, seems to be so much speculative reporting going on – none of which will be reflected in any of the links that I could post right now thanks to the ability to revise reporting available online in real time. And my newsfeeds are still flooded with outrage and sadness and confusion about all of this.

There are a great many questions that are hovering unanswered – about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, why it happened, and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.

I remember hearing about Columbine. I was living alone near State College, working on wedding plans, working as a pharmacy tech and applying to Lock Haven University for their physician’s assistant program. I came home from work and parked myself in front of the television set with my kitten and could not move. Tears streamed down my face as I felt my heart break for the families and friends of those lost.

And even before I had any clue that I would be a teacher, I worried and wondered and lost sleep about how you could protect your students from the madmen and violence if they came to your school.

Now, all these years later, I’m sitting here in a house I share with my son and husband, reading everything about what happened on my computer so that my son who is playing with Legos on the floor near me doesn’t have to know more than he already does about what happened yesterday. The details of my life and this shooting are different than they were in spring of 1999, but so many of the thoughts racing through my head are the same.

I’ll let others ponder the big questions of how we could anticipate who might be predisposed to commit such horrific acts or if creating stronger gun control laws would have a preventative effect or what kind of safety measures or procedures can be put in place institutionally.

I worry about what I would do if this ever happened at my school.

What can I do to protect my students – the ones whom their parents charged me with not only educating but also keeping safe in the hours and minutes they are with me – if this ever happened at my school?

I don’t think this question is going anywhere. It’s plagued my mind since Columbine and just intensifies every time another shooting happens.

But now I worry about what is being done to keep my son safe, too.

I don’t have answers. I just run through drills in my head about where my students would be safest under different circumstances. I think about keeping my door locked. I worry about what would happen if a student was in the bathroom or at her locker getting a sweatshirt when it all happened. I cry when I think about how I may not ever be able to do enough to keep all of my students safe.

I’m not paranoid.

I’m a teacher. I’m a mother.

I worry because I want to protect all of my children – whether they call me Mom or Mrs. Minnich.

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