Today, as I walked out of my former elementary school early enough to beat the crowd of parents congregating in their cars to pick their kids up, I spotted two cars on the outskirts of the parking lot. They were parked close to one other, windows down, and I saw those extra big black mirrors that are often on police cars. That’s when I noticed the men dressed in uniforms sitting in the cars and at first, I was a little confused. Then, the memory of walking passed orange construction cones to get from the main hallway to the classrooms flashed through my mind and I was reminded of the extra caution schools are taking due to some recent events. Here I was in an elementary school just a few days after a tragedy that changed how these teachers and parents view elementary school safety and I was someone they trusted to enter.
It makes me think how did that man get into the school? Was he a trusted individual? What kind of security did that school have and why…why children? Why a school?
I had the teacher I was observing in fourth grade, Mrs. Hunter. She’s been teaching for around 16 years and has two daughers of her own. She’s currently co-teaching with another teacher and hearing their concerns for the children in their class was a little mind boggling. She explained some of the backgrounds a few kids in her class come from…some without one parent or the other, some low SES, and some from different countries. All of these kids have personal lives that are going to effect how they learn and then on top of all of this there are some parents who informed their kids about the shooting and some that didn’t. So now there’s kids talking about it with their classmates who may know or not know as much as they do themselves.
It brings up the topic: when should these teachers address the shooting, if at all?
I was informed that the teachers had an in service about how much to tell the kids and when to tell them. They were told if the children ask questions to give them answers, but nothing too specific. Their young minds deserve the truth wrapped in euphimisms so they aren’t tainted too much to go to school without fear, like my teacher’s own daugthers were. She said her oldest told her she was scared to go to school. Her response? Yeah, of course, but everything will be okay. And sure, a parent is going to tell their kid that to reassure them of their safety and create peace of mind, however, I can’t help but think of the parents in Connecticut. They leave their child in the hands of a school system weekly, knowing they are getting an education and have proper guidance. How can anyone even describe their hurt?
Mrs. Hunter made a comment along the lines of, ” Soon we’re going to have armed guards outside our schools and that’s not right.” This hit me hard. As I was walking into the school before entering her classroom I saw the flag pole and couldn’t help but smile. So many times before, when I attended school there, it was my “safety” duty to raise that flag and wander back into the building. There’s a calm sense of security I feel when I picture my 9 year old self walking through those halls. Then, with a little imagination, I picture armed guards shadowing over me, watching me walk into the building, questioning every person that passes because that’s their job and they have multiple reasons to be there. It sucks and Mrs. Hunter spoke the truth: it’s not right.
Ever since I was little, I was taught that school is a safe haven for so many kids. The school I was in offers breakfasts to the students because so many come from low SES families. School is a chance for them to have some routine, get away from their house and their family, learn, and have fun, but most of all, feel safe and at ease. Although guards would be nice in extreme circumstances, they also give people a reason to feel like the environment they are walking into might not be totally safe.
In order to be safe in emergencies, classrooms should have a “safe zone”. This spot would be out of sight from any door or windows that enter the classroom. Usually a corner by some bookshelves gets the job done, but because Mrs. Hunter co-teaches, there are two classrooms connected with a (usually open) sliding wall in the middle. The classroom now has two main doors, along with a set of doors that lead outside of the building. This leads to limited space out of sight from all three doors. All day today, they kept saying, “what about here?” or “if this happens then…”
Teachers are now not only planning lessons, but planning safety precautions as well (not that they didn’t before, but the need for them is hightened now). They have to deal with the basic knowledge the kids come into their classroom with, help them acquire new knowledge, meet the curriculum goals, and then on top of all of that, they need to reassure their student’s safety while reflecting on the decisions so many teachers had to make last week in Connecticut. Stories were being thrown back and forth of some incredible teachers who did everything in their power to keep their kids safe. I say “their kids” because that’s what they became. They weren’t just kids in their classroom, they were their own children who they loved dearly. They hid them in closets, moved filing cabinets in front of doors, held the children’s faces and told them they loved them so if anything happened to them that’s the last thing they would have heard.
While I took a step back and tried to look at this whole thing from an outsiders perspective I saw two teachers, going back and forth about a terrible event and the precautions they have to take now, but behind them I saw a group of third grade students writing books to their parents about why they love them. The mindsets are 180 degrees different. As I was walking out of the classroom, through the halls that look eerily similar but drastically different from when I was there, I passed a classroom I’ve been in before. It was my fifth grade classroom. I don’t remember what subject we were working on, but I do remember sitting there at my desk observing like I still do today. I saw Ms. White walk in, looking frantic. My teacher scurrying over to console her and I remember feeling a sense of confusion. Maybe Ms. White is having a bad day. Maybe her and her boyfriend broke up, her grandma died, or maybe she was just sad because one of her students called her a poopoo head. Reality was, those teachers had gotten the news about two planes full of people crashing into the twin towers. My fifth grade mind didn’t understand why the school had been put on lockdown, why the teachers were frantic, or what possibly could have been happening. They weren’t allowed to fill us in, and we didn’t know there was anything going on that was out of the norm anyways.
The Connecticut shooting, although on a smaller scale (it’s weird saying death is on a “small scale” but for lack of better verbage there it is), could be these kid’s 911. And it just makes me think, when is there going to be mass amounts of good news? When is saftey not going to be a “goal”, but a “usual”?
I don’t know, I guess I’m still trying to figure it all out. Just like many others are probably doing as well. It’s hard for me to fathom such chaos.