As I write this my heart is heavy. Will it have an impact? Maybe. Maybe not. But writing is an outlet. It is a process of self care that I have learned is oh-so-important to practice to combat the effects of trauma. It is my way of getting things off my chest. Will the thoughts still keep me up at night or cause me to pull my car over and sob? Probably. But there is also some relief and release in writing down thoughts and feelings that have been stirring.
I graduated from high school in the wake of Columbine. The one time incident (or so I thought) did not affect my decision to go into education.
I am a teacher.
I remember the day I sat in my class room and cried for the students at Sandy Hook. I remember walking in the next day and assessing my own class room. How many kids could I fit in cupboards? How best could I block my door? How would I fight back for the sake of those beautiful children in my care?
I have gone through active shooter trainings so traumatic that I remember EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND. of hiding in a building and watching as the fake shooter pointed guns at my colleagues and fired. I hate guns. I did not sign up to be a police officer for a reason and I do not want to have to be one now.
Every time I walk up to a school building, I assess the security and how easy (or not) it is for me to get in. Why is there a window in the front entrance? Did they really look to see who I was before buzzing me in?
Every time I am in a new school or class room I assess the best hiding spots and where the best out is.
I have explained to hundreds of kids, the best way I know how without worrying them, why we practice lock downs at school. I won’t forget the 1st grader, when discussing an outside threat, chimed in and said “Yeah, like if a tiger was outside and wanted to eat us.” I wonder how long his innocent mind stayed that way in the wake of the epidemic we seem to be facing.
And yet here I sit. Mourning again. Heart broken by the brokeness of the society in which we are currently living.
I watch colleagues battle issues with students full of anger, trauma and social anxieties at the young age of 5. We love the hell out of these kids and do everything for them within our power. Sometimes the hurt and damage is so deep. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder, if they’re screaming profanity at us now, what might they do in 10 years if we can’t find a way to help them?
I am being trained on the affects of trauma and secondary trauma. We, as teachers, experience trauma because we witness it in our students and we care so deeply that it hurts us too.
EVERY. TIME. a school or mass shooting happens people get fired up for weeks. Maybe months. Then it fades away to the next story. But it doesn’t fade away for all of us. We, as teachers, cannot escape the reality that we face every day. We cannot turn off a switch in our heads that makes us stop assessing safety in our class rooms and running through what-if scenarios before falling asleep at night.
The answer is complex. It is not solely this or that. It is a system change that needs to happen to fix the disconnect and brokeness that our students feel for many different reasons.
We need advocates. Advocates for everything. Sometimes, at the end of the day we are just too tired to do it ourselves. We spend our days pouring our heart and soul into troubled kids. We leave both mentally and physically exhausted. We need the community, our society at large, to help us raise families and kids together. Remember the saying “it takes a village”?
Nothing productive comes from blaming but progress can happen when we care. Care enough to reach out to your neighbor. Care enough to offer the neighborhood kids a soda or cookie. Care enough to ask for help when you need it or offer help to those in need. Care enough to put down your phone and connect with your friends and family. Care enough to create change. Care enough to lobby and vote and advocate. We desperately NEED you to care. Our students NEED you to care. And care enough to continue caring even when tragedy after tragedy fades from the headlines.