The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Processing the CT events, as a teacher and a mom

      With a full teaching day on Friday, the events in Connecticut seemed an impossible nightmare until later in the day as I was able to watch the news and process all of it.  My initial reaction was to put myself in the role of the teachers. I found myself imagining those teachers, alerted to a threat, vigilantly aware of the limits of their own classrooms, eager to protect their children... because I have been in their shoes.
     Ironically, I spent an hour and a half last Friday afternoon on lockdown in my own school because of a threat that someone nearby had a weapon. This probably sounds scary to you, it was oddly just irritating to me, as real lockdowns (not drills) are fairly commonplace in the community where I teach. Our school is very safe, but the community is overrun with gang violence. We often end up on lockdown just because of police pursuing a suspect or a perceived threat nearby.

      Three years ago, when I moved into my new classroom, I was delighted with the beautiful windows that make up 75% of my wall space. The students' first question on the first day of school that year was, "What are we going to do in a lockdown?"  In a lockdown, it is common practice to get away from all the windows, ideally to a corner of the room that cannot be seen from the windows or door, and to turn off all the lights, essentially hiding from whatever threat may be outside. In my room, there is no light to turn off -- the room is flooded with sunlight -- and there is no corner that cannot be seen. The only real solution, in the situation of a genuine threat, is to hide in the bathroom and storage room. It would be tight, but we'd all fit. I've thought about it plenty of times. My bathroom and storage room automatically lock and can only be opened with a key (which is irritating when the kids forget to leave the door stopper in during the day, but somewhat comforting given the recent events). We'd be fairly safe.

     And sure enough, that is what the teachers did that awful Friday morning. Who knows how many precious lives were saved by teachers' quick thinking. As the stories emerge, it is clear that many of these teachers did exactly what I would have done -- shoved all their kids in the bathroom and prayed for the best. For one class, that wasn't good enough. In one of the classrooms, from what I have heard, a group of the victims was found huddled together in the bathroom. I'd imagine first grade bathrooms don't lock securely like mine. The poor teacher did the best she could. But she died there with her babies.

     For a teacher, your students are like your own kids, so given that I heard about the event at school, and that I am a teacher, and that it was at a school, it makes sense that my first thoughts were of the teachers.

     But as it sunk in, and details surfaced, that the vast majority of the victims were little first graders, like my own precious son, my thoughts went to those mothers. It is so horrific, I cannot even imagine. One of the students' last week asked me what my biggest fear is. I answered, "Losing my children." A friend of my cousin, an online friend of mine, lost her child a week ago. I felt sick to my stomach when I thought of the pain she must be in. It is truly my biggest fear. I truly could not imagine.

 Then, Saturday morning, I watched an interview with a priest who knew many of the families. He talked about when he spoke with the parents, and that one of the little girls was going to be an angel in their Christmas pageant. And that, while they were speaking, one mom's phone beeped to remind her to bring her son to cub scouts, and she realized that she would never bring him to cub scouts again. And then... it hit home. I could imagine.

    Do you know how many alerts I have set in my phone for Vinny?  I could imagine the absolute pain of that mom.

      And then, our church had our Christmas pageant this morning. In the prayers at the beginning, they read each of the victims names and ages, so many of them 6 years old, just like Vinny. I cried quietly and prayed for that mom, who's daughter would not take the stage this weekend. I could not get that mom out of my head. As my son took the stage with his friends (some of whom he has known since he was two-years-old), to tell the story of our savior, I had a really hard time keeping it together. I don't think I was the only one. When our precious babies sang the final words of Away in a Manger, "Bless all the dear children in thy tender care and fit us for heaven to live with thee there," I don't think there was a dry-eyed parent in that church.

      Although Christmas is so often a reminder of the beauty of this world and the greatness of humanity, this year, it is truly a reminder of humanity's brokenness too. As we think of Mary, giving birth to a baby boy who would redeem our souls, its a reminder of the sacrifice that Mary made too. This Christmas, I think we'll all see our children as the blessings they truly are.

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