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I'm a Mom and a Teacher—This Is Not What I Signed Up For

Photograph by Twenty20

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to help children learn, grow and reach their goals. I wanted to be in charge of creating math lessons, reading lessons and art lessons. I wanted to make a positive difference in young lives. For the past 15 years, I've been so happy to have done just this.

But over the past few years there has been a shift of what I’m actually in charge of. It's a shift that leaves me questioning myself as a teacher almost every day. Because now, when I walk around my campus, I see our flag at half mast and my heart sinks. Another school shooting. Another community torn apart. More fear and questions from parents. More emails from our principal. More meetings with police officers about school safety.

I am saddened, scared and sickened by everything I obsessively watch on the news. It could easily be my school next time. These horrific tragedies always leave us teachers questioning what we would do in the same situation, over and over again. I signed up to teach reading, spelling, math and science—not to plan escape routes and emergency procedures in my classroom.

I wonder, would I be able to handle an active shooter on my own campus? Yes, I have been trained, briefed and drilled about how to handle a situation like the ones we see on the news, but would I truly be able to do what the training has taught me?

Every time another shooting happens, I remember sitting in our active shooter training at the beginning of the school year, listening to the police officers who told us, "Just run, because a moving target is harder to hit than a sitting target." I remember thinking, "How on earth would I wrangle 27 third graders to 'just run' in an emergency situation?"

I think about the parents who have entrusted me with their kids. I admit, I sometimes go to work frightened. Try teaching more than two dozen anxious kids while you're scared and constantly looking outside your window to make sure nothing scary or suspicious is happening on campus.

The students in my classroom become my own kids almost instantly after the school year starts. Every day, we work, problem-solve, laugh and even sometimes cry. We are a family and I am the parental figure for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. I take care of and protect them while they are under my supervision.

None of this is what I wanted to be in charge of when I decided to be a teacher.

However, if there was an active shooter on our campus, and I had to choose between my school kids and my own daughter, I worry about what I would actually do. My own daughter, age 5, is also a student at my school and her classroom is two wings over. If there was an emergency, what would my motherly instincts make me to do? Would I try to run to find her in chaos? Would I stay with my classroom and hide in the connected bathroom or shove my students in the classroom cabinets? Or would I panic and freeze?

None of this is what I wanted to be in charge of when I decided to be a teacher.

Sometimes, I wonder what would make me feel safer on my campus. Locked gates? An armed police officer at all times? The ability to have my own protection (a weapon) in my classroom? Some days, I freely open and unlock my classroom door and don’t think about what would happen if someone was outside with a gun. Some days, I keep the door closed and locked all day because I have a flash of a thought, in a moment in the morning, to the footage I’ve seen of students running from their schools and their parents' heartbreaking interviews.

Sometimes, I start thinking about the things we read about some of the shooters, with this most recent shooter being identified as a troubled kid in high school who got suspended for fighting. As a teacher, it makes me so sad and frustrated to see kids with behavior issues slip through the cracks at the elementary school level because we don't know how it can possibly affect all of us later.

When teachers tell parents, "You need to pay closer attention to your child's social challenges and behavior problems, and get him or her help," many parents write us off as being rude, disrespectful or just plain unknowledgeable about the warning signs we see developing. Maybe this last shooting could have been prevented if the shooter's family had paid closer attention when he was a child.

This danger in our schools has me questioning so much about myself, what my profession has become and my future as a teacher in this day and age.

I once wanted to be in charge of a classroom, students and creating my own curriculum. I do not want to be in charge of planning escape routes. I do not want to be in charge of wondering if the tool the district gave us to break our window to escape would actually work. I do not want to be in charge of thinking how I could secure my door shut with a blockade. I do not want to try and help students if their parents are in denial about a potentially dangerous path their kid might be on.

I did not sign up for any of this kind of work. I don't want to be in charge of any of this, even though the reality is that I am now in charge of it all.

If this is teaching nowadays, is this still what I want?

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