For This I Believe
Last year, a small but significant change took place in the school calendar. For the first time, lock down drills outnumbered fire drills. I will admit, the danger of fire in this modern brick building, with sprinkler system and computerized temperature controls, is not what it was in my childhood school: an old two story, with tall oak framed windows, worn wooden floors, and clanging radiators powered by a mysterious boiler that was tended, nurtured and guarded, in its basement lair, by a man we rarely saw.
Lock down drills are the schools safety response to Columbine. Students sit in a silent circle behind staff desks. As teacher, it is my job to turn out the lights, pull the shades and lock the door.
But it is also my job to protect, even if it means stepping between a gunman and my students. When did I sign up for this duty? I am not a woman of valor. Invisible in a crowd, I could be anyone’s grandmother: bifocals, graying hair, comfortable clothes, sensible shoes. But when the room is dark, and we sit behind a locked door, I see beyond the drills to situations that have shadowed other schools. I rehearse different scripts, hoping in each scene, that I will be blessed with power to be fast enough, strong enough, bold enough, to make a difference in a tragic drama.
The fire drills of my elementary years were a brief relief from tedious lessons. I didn’t think about flames. I hope my students don’t think about bullets.
Where have we gone wrong? I am not naive about violence. I have taught children with behavior problems for nearly three decades, and have witnessed the dark side of family decay. But I have also seen bright possibilities. During a year’s leave of absence from my regular job, I was part of an assessment team that worked with every second grade classroom in the St. Paul school system. We had three interpreters, but often were faced with more languages than we could accommodate. I was awed by the bravery of these little ones, cheerfully taking on our tasks in a sea of unfamiliar words. One little girl knew four words of English, but gave me a paper cut out lantern as a parting gift. In the poorest of neighborhoods, children asked if we would please come tomorrow, too. The potential is there. I saw it.
This year, when I sit in the darkened classroom, acutely aware of the reality of random gunfire, I hope I will not be remembered for a doing my job in a moment of violence, but for in bringing three children of my own into this world with the belief that things would get better, and the world could change, one child at a time.
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