Today I write to you as a broken teacher. The events of last week have brought me into a different season in my life. A week ago 17 people were senselessly murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—a mere 7-minute drive from where I live.
I forgot my lunch that day and planned to go home during lunch/planning, but with the Mu Alpha Theta competition being the next day, I decided to stay and prepare. At 1:35 pm, I tried to see if I could make it to the parking lot early to at least stop at home before driving to Hollywood. I was stopped by a few of my colleagues to talk and soon before I knew it, the clock read 2:05 pm.
I drove straight to Hollywood and went about my routine of tutoring my Seminole students. While waiting for my first one to arrive, I went on Facebook and watched the horror unfold before my eyes. Police were everywhere, students were running out of the building. I sat in disbelief that this could happen again; this time, in my own backyard. I tried my hardest to keep my composure for my students as I processed the events that took place.
As I drove home I began to remember the tragedies that have taken place throughout the years. I was 13-years old when two teenagers murdered 12 innocent people in Columbine. It was a tragedy that rocked the nation and sparked debates about gun control, school safety and prayer in schools. School safety policies were changed as a result of Columbine. Drills were more frequent, schools considered clear backpacks and metal detectors. I remember watching the debates in horror and praying for the victims. I remember going to youth group and discussing the tragedy. We were all at a loss for words.
8 years after Columbine, there was Virginia Tech. By this time, I was already in college and shocked. Five years later, Adam Lanza killed 26 innocent lives during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. By this time, I was in my last year of college and the reality had not yet settled in and it wouldn’t until last week.
The day after the shooting, I woke up and went about my morning routine. I was about to put on my shoes, when it hit me. 17 people got up, went to work and school, but didn’t go home. When did this become normal? I began weeping as I thought about my own students. What if it had been my school? Could I have adequately protected them? What would I feel if I lost some of my own kids? It was an unbearable emotion that led me to pray and intercede for the students and their families. I wept as I began to intercede for my own students and their families.
I wanted to stay home and be in prayer all day, but I felt my students would need to feel some sense of normalcy. They would need their teacher to reassure them and hug them as they cried; but the day turned out to be more emotional than I thought. I found myself trying to keep it together for them and praying for the Lord’s strength in doing so. It turned out to be a day where I had to go over the emergency plans with them, listen to their concerns and wipe their tears as I was dying inside.
My principal got onto the PA and announced that we would be entering into a code yellow. A few hours later, it changed to a code red. I stayed glued to the news. The drama continued to unfold as there was a false alarm at a nearby school and one of our own students called in a bomb threat. It seemed as if we were all under attack; especially our youth. I began asking God questions. Why would He allow for 17 innocent people to lose their lives at the hands of a mentally unstable person? At what point in time did we fail him as a society?
I slowly began to realize it wasn’t just an issue of gun control. All of these killers had several factors in common. The Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas killers had mental health issues that had not been addressed properly. Each of them had access to guns and premeditated the shootings. It’s easy to point the finger at gun control because it is sometimes difficult for someone to take responsibility for their failures.
I believe in the second amendment, even though I do not own a gun. We should be able to protect ourselves from an intruder or someone causing harm to us; but when did the second amendment become the means for an individual to premediate and execute the murder of 17 innocent people? How were Nikolas Cruz, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Seung-Hui Cho and Adam Lanza able to access guns so easily? Why is it that in the course of nearly 20 years, the gun laws have not changed? How many more innocent lives will be taken before our legislators decide on stricter regulations?
I also believe those with mental health issues need help and resources. Their families need support. How many of these parents actually knew how to deal with the issues their children faced? Would these shootings have happened if they had access to what they needed to help their children? Why are school psychologists and social workers so scarce in times like these?
Why are there only 5 security guards for every 1,000 students in Broward County Public Schools? Why do less than half of the schools have resource officers to help protect our students? Why was Nikolas Cruz transferred out of a school for the emotionally and behaviorally handicapped despite the warnings that were evident on his Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? Did our broken school system fail him too? How was he able to get onto the campus so easily without people knowing he did not belong?
Gun control isn’t the only issue here. Should there be more regulations on how to obtain guns including mental health checks? Absolutely. Should the age limit be increased and assault rifles banned? Perhaps. Should the government provide more resources for the families of those with mental health issues? What about our schools? How can we make them safer? How do we provide resources for our students facing these issues? When will our legislators stop cutting education? Without the necessary funds, it is impossible to help our students become successful adults. You see, it is not just the academics we teach; it’s about the whole person.
So as I’ve asked these questions, I’ve begun to pray for healing, change and safety. I’ve always covered myself with the blood of Jesus every morning; but now, I pray for the blood of Jesus to cover our youth. Our youth are being attacked and they need us now more than ever. They need our prayers and support. I’ve seen them rise up in swarms to walk out of our schools to protest for their beliefs and honestly, I’m proud of them.
There is a sense of irony when politicians say we should pray for them, but prayer was removed from schools decades ago and they have done nothing to bring it back. Legislators were elected into positions to represent and protect our interests. The survivors saw a taste of what I’ve seen over the past 20 years when the gun control debate reignites as a result of another senseless tragedy. I am proud of these kids for being strong and resilient; unafraid of standing up to their representatives. I am proud that they are able to do what I never did at their age. I am proud that they stand for something instead of falling for anything. I am proud of them for not giving up.
My students participated in a walkout. I did not teach math today; I taught civics. I encouraged them to peacefully protest and stand up for their beliefs. If I could, I would have walked out with them to stand in unity for their safety. Today, my students showed me that they are hurting right along with me and that we will heal… Together.