Gun Violence and School Shootings: A Teacher (and Parent) Perspective

What grade do you teach?
Currently a 7th grade teacher

How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching since 1998. 5 years in the bad school, central east, and the rest in the good one.

When you decided to become a teacher had you ever heard any stories about or given any thought to gun violence, specifically shootings in schools?
When I was in school, I don’t recall really hearing about school shootings. Once I got graduated and got hired, Columbine happened.

Did that make you tentative at all? Or was it more of a ‘that can’t happen here’ mentality?
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was young and naïve, and working in quite a tough school. There were many fights, several 14-year-old girls that were pregnant, skills were very low, staff members being assaulted, parental support was practically non-existent. I tried to have a tough exterior to show those kids I was all business. I had high expectations. My only concern was how I was going to survive each day. I saw many teachers around me that came in everyday and were just so miserable. And believe me when I tell you they had every right to be. The shooting at Columbine for me, was something that was far away and out of the realm possibility. In the meantime, I was more worried about the most recent riot that happened at dismissal outside of school, and the roof of my red grand am, which had been all dented in from kids that were standing and jumping on it while innocently being parked on the corner.
It’s important that I add, this car was eventually stolen from the school parking lot while I was at work. I got a call 2 days later that it was found. My dad went to claim it from a police impoundment lot and walked right by it as it was unrecognizable. Turns out a cop saw a 13-year-old child driving, ran the plates, and it came up as reported missing. A chase ensued and the kid ended up wrapping it around a pole and totaled it.
That was my reality. A school nowhere near Philadelphia, where a white kid wearing a long trench coat, who was bullied and then shot up and murdered [students at] his school was not going to happen on Wyoming Avenue.

Do you think Columbine or had there been other shootings that you’d been aware of at the time, deterred you at all or make you second guess your decision to teach? 
I don’t think Columbine would have changed my mind in becoming a teacher. Teaching was the only thing I felt I was meant to do. Fast forward 1.5 years later and 9-11 is really what changed everything. While this was not a school shooting, this introduced the idea that just about anything is possible anymore. No one was safe from anything.
At Central East, there were many days after 9-11 that we spent outside our school yard waiting for police to sweep through our building because of daily bomb threats being called in. They first took these incidents very seriously, especially because our school was located in a neighborhood with a very high Muslim population. A specialist in race relations from the district was sent in to give us training on how to handle being in a neighborhood where news coverage was showing celebrations occurring in the streets after 9-11. The tension was so high you could cut it with a knife.

Have you ever had to do “shelter in place” or similar lock down type situations with your class?
We have had to do shelter in place a few times at Masterman. It was for a stranger entering the building. I think our prime location makes us an easy target for homeless people and other various sordid folk.
The first time I did not have a key because I was a floating teacher. So I was not able to lock the door and I was losing my shit as were a few other teachers. New locks on the doors and master keys were issued to everyone shortly after. Along with a threat that if we lost the key it would be $700 to replace.

How do the kids typically respond to such things?
Kids were very upset about the door not locking as well as being squeezed into a corner where anyone could see that we were all squeezed into a corner. This was a day or two after Sandy Hook which had us on high alert already.
Having to tell my students about Sandy Hook was just awful, however, not nearly as awful as telling them about our 8th grader that committed suicide.

What happened with that?
Each grade class has 198 students. Mostly everyone knows each other. This incident had our school shaken to the core. Even the homeroom teacher of the boy retired at the end of the year because it was too much. He happened to have an older brother in the high school so we were a mess on all ends.The boy did shoot himself in the head because of the pressure of getting into the high school. That was a funeral that a person finds themselves weeping at.

Do you think there’s a way to decrease the number of school shootings (or any mass shooting) in this country? Has your school done anything in response to events like this?
Last year we had a metal detector installed. We were the last high school to get one. We also got closed circuit monitors and a buzzer on the door. All these new plans, and gadgets and gizmos have created a ” police state” which does help me feel safe. Fortunately, Masterman is a school where kids want to come to and they are very bright. If I were in a different school , I don’t know if I would feel that way.  Last year was another lockdown because of a man with a gun at CCP (Community College of Philadelphia). We were told to stay away from the windows. The younger kids were freaked out. I was also freaking out. The lockdown we had last week was almost like no big deal anymore. How freaking sad is that?

And on the larger scale?
I don’t know what can help decrease school shootings. Even at Masterman we have kids with a lot of issues that are not getting the help they need. I would imagine that would be the place to start. I hear a lot of people calling in lawmakers to make changes on how easily guns are accessed. To me that’s common sense, but people start losing their shit about their constitutional rights to carry a gun. They are extremists and no one that is extreme about anything can be reasoned with.

Overall do you feel safe from gun violence in your school?
I feel safeish in MY school. I can’t say yes I feel safe or no I do not. It’s just not that cut and dry. I feel sick people are out there and they are going to do bad things.

Do you think your own children do?
My kids are probably still too young to feel otherwise.

In talking about this topic, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask the students themselves. So, please follow us on our Facebook page where we’ll be posting the results of a brief survey we did with a classroom of 7th graders about the issue.

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