Today, as too many times before, I walked into our classroom and tried to figure out what we could use to protect ourselves, what we could use to barricade the door, what I would need to help my students escape through our second story window. How we would survive in the case of an active shooter.
As colleagues drifted in we discussed the news; another school shooter, more lives lost, more teachers portrayed as heroes as they shielded students with the only thing they had; their bodies. And we looked around our rooms and we shuddered at the realization that really the only thing we can hope for is a lucky break if someone decides that our school is the next target. That the only thing we can cling our hope on is that if a shooter was to enter through the front entry, then we perhaps would have enough time to get out simply because of our location in our school.
And as I watched students come to class, ready for another day to learn, I was surprised at their lack of talk about it. One child finally brought it up, telling me she had seen the videos recorded from Snapchat. How it was hard to watch and I wondered; have our students become used to this new reality where we don’t do just fire drills but also active shooter drills? Where my 5-year-old kids come home to tell me how they sat really quiet in the corner so that the bad man wouldn’t hear them. How is this our nation?
Last night I sent out the following tweet and all day today the replies have poured in. Comments from fellow teachers telling me what they have for weapons in the classroom (nuts and bolt, fire extinguishers, bats, golf clubs or anything else they can get their hands on), how they plan on getting out, what they plan to use to barricade the door. How their doors lock from the outside, how their kids won’t know how to stay quiet and hide. How they know as special ed teachers that they more than likely will have to shield their kids because they may not be able to get out. How they are training their students to run around the gunman in case they are taken out. How they cannot fathom how this is our reality in the United States, because, guess what, it is not the reality for teachers anywhere else in the world, not at this scale.
My husband told me he would be purchasing a rope ladder and window hammer for me to keep in my classroom. That he would think of something to send in with me in case I needed to defend myself but I couldn’t help but think; what good will a bat do against an AR-15?
We are working in a public school system where our funding is being depleted and our class sizes are going up, leaving us less time to connect with each child, leaving us less time to really get to know the kids we have in our care. We live in a country where mental health services are being slashed and those who desperately need more care, cannot get it. We are living in a country where protecting gun rights is more important than protecting human lives. And we are told to not make this political but how can we not when it seems the only response we have in America is to send thoughts and prayers?
And so this morning, as I entered our classroom, I realized, again, that as much as I want to live to be old, I would also shield my students with my body if I had to. That I would stand in the line of fire if I need to because that is now also a part of my responsibility. That my students lives matter more than my own.
So today I put on a brave face in front of my students, even if every little out-of-the-ordinary noise made me flinch. Even if I thought about every student I have ever taught and whether I did enough for them to make sure they felt known, like they mattered, and not like they should come back for revenge. And I was scared.
I am scared.
Because I don’t want to be a hero.
I want to be alive.
I want to see my own children grow up.
I want to see them graduate.
Fall in love.
I want to be a grandmother some day.
Be called mormor and tell stories of back in the day.
I want to retire and hold hands with my husband by the ocean someday while the world passes us slowly by.
To take my last breath surrounded by my family, not in my classroom.
But I may not get that dream if we don’t change the way our laws work.
How many more children will have to die for us to do something?
25 thoughts on “I Don’t Want to Be a Hero”
What a great post. It’s hard to believe that this year there have been several school shootings & it’s only February. I worked at Sandy Hook before the shooting. My heart aches.
I don’t want to be a Hero either. Thank you for your words.
Powerful and poignant.
Pernille you wrote what so many of us are thinking and feeling. I teach at a school where not all classrooms have doors and none of us have closets, so we really feel vulnerable. I just want to know when something will change, so we can just teach and not worry about active shooters in our school.
When Sandy Hook occurred, my daughter was an upper elementary student. While watching the news coverage, she asked me why I was crying and I told her that I was sad for all of the first graders and teachers that had died that day. She also asked me if I, a first grade teacher, would put myself in front of my students to save them. What a hard question to answer, especially in front of this child that I love more than anything. I said “I would do anything to keep my students safe, just like your teacher would” God bless all of those teachers that did whatever it took to keep their students safe.
I teach 7th grade. I keep a bat in my room. My students don’t know where it is. When I tell them I’m going down swinging if I have to they don’t know that I mean it literally. Today we talked about the shooting in all my classes. I went back over where we hide. What we do. What our first line of defense is etc. Every day when our loud speaker comes on with an unexpected announcement I flinch.
Your words and your thought are mine. I will shield them to protect them, but I don’t want to be a hero. I want our government to do the right thing. There is no reason an “average” person needs an AR-15. NONE!
I’ve read article after article today about how many school shootings that there have been this year so far. There was actually an article arguing that the number 18 isn’t accurate. Does anyone else think it doesn’t matter? If it’s 1, 5, 17, or 18 any number other than ZERO IS UNACCEPTABLE.
Teachers- we are strong and we are many. Use your voices to demand change. Call your senators and congress people. Demand action!
My heart is broken for the students, parents, and teachers of Parkland.
You re right. One is too many.
As an Australian we do not understand why this happens. We don’t understand why you don’t protest on the streets, activate your parents and students and why you are not in the face of your government demanding change. We are frustrated by so much of what we hear and see but our hearts go out to you . If it happened here parents, teachers, students would all be demanding change. Our complicated profession is always a challenge but you folk in the US face situations we can’t even imagine. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your colleagues and students.
Thank you for putting this in words. All so true and so sad as to the state of our country.
Most of us will not be heroes. Not in the sense of laying down our lives for the children in our care. We will do what we must – and we will be wise in this as in so many things education… take care of children. Because no one else will. Godspeed teachers and children everywhere. May no more of us need to be heroes.
I was a first or second year teacher when Columbine happened. My dad called me that night and said, “If you are ever in that situation, you run. Don’t try to be a hero.” I had to laugh because obviously, I was HIS little girl who he wanted protected at all costs–but to be a teacher who runs instead of protecting her students is not who he raised me to be.
How many times since then have I remembered his words. Today we did a school wide drill, and after getting my students into “safe” places, I pulled up a stool between them and the door. “Mrs. Gassaway, you’d better not really sit there in a real lockdown!” a kid said. “I will always place myself between you guys and the door in a real lockdown,” I answered. Mostly because I want them to know that in a world where strangers might try to kill them, there are also people who value them above everything.
Thank you, as always, Pernille, for making me think with a heavy heart. I agree, while I would do just about anything for my students, I don’t want to be a hero. I want to be around for my own children and their children someday. To even feel like we have to consider this as we drive to work each day is unimaginable.
I work in a classroom with walls that will not protect us from gunfire and one window that isn’t made to open. Last night, my husband tried to think of ways I could get myself and my students out if needed. This should not be our dinnertime conversation!!
I am disgusted with those in power in our country. I agree with Kerri, we should be screaming at the top of our lungs so we are louder than the NRA and more convincing than the millions of dollars our congresspeople take each year to protect the guns more than our children. And while our president points out that we need to focus more on mental illness, he recently made it easier for the mentally ill to get weapons and harder for them to get medication. It is easier for them to get guns than to get treatment. The politicians will continue to protect the guns. And the children and their teachers will continue to get killed.
My own children don’t even want to live in this country when they grow up.
This is our America.
Thank you. Perfectly and painfully stated. We have to be and do better than this.
I am so moved by this entry. You have summed up how so many of us feel. I will never carry a gun into my classroom, but I did buy a blind to put over the window of the door to my room, and a fire extinguisher to hang by the door to use as a weapon. I know what furniture we’ll move in front of the door, etc., etc., etc. Why am I having to spend the last years of my career thinking about these issues? Spending my energy thinking of escape routes instead of the academic, social, and psychological needs of my students? D— right it’s political! And unless we do something to change it, more of us are going to die protecting our students.
You have captured my feelings exactly, Pernille. I am more vigilant on the playground and when guests visit our schools. When someone arrives, I do my best to greet them, sort of as a way to determine if this person is here for good or not. It’s a sad state that we are in that we can’t welcome others into our school without being at least a little concern about their purpose in visiting our school.
Our students and staff didn’t really react much on Thursday. I may be naive, but maybe our students and staff feel safe. Or maybe they didn’t want to speak up. Or it happened in Florida and won’t happen in Wisconsin. Or we live in a small town. I honestly don’t think it matters where we live anymore. Mental health issues are everywhere, not just in big towns or in other states.
Make sure to hug and kiss your own children before you leave for school. I do that every day.
Beautifully said and a profound statement about the reality of our profession.
Thank you for posting this, Pernille. I started teaching over 20 years ago; three years before Columbine. Who would ever think this would be a worry for teachers? I have been formally trained twice in active shooter scenarios. The first time I went through the training, I came home and cried. I am a mother myself and as you stated, I too want to see my children grow. I am thankful (I guess?!) that I have this training, and have already thought about how I would help my students through a situation should there be a need. How is this our world? It is so disheartening. We cannot live in a bubble, so how do we fix it? Your words in this post will stay with me. With hope and action, maybe our voices can be heard. In the meantime, I will pray and tell my own kids everyday how much I love them and will encourage the parents of those I teach to do the same.
I think I am just as likely to be a zero as a hero. I am not trained to fight semi-automatic weapons.
What a powerful essay, especially this sentence: “To take my last breath surrounded by my family, not in my classroom.”