I remember December 14, 2012, was cold and sunny. I showed up to teach my second graders at Sandy Hook School, as usual. It would be my last day setting foot in that school.
My students and I were having our morning meeting when I suddenly heard what I thought were metal chairs falling, but what I came to realize were gunshots. And they kept going, 154 shots fired altogether. My students and I hid in the coats hanging against a wall. I sang and read to my students, trying to drown out the terrible noises and keep them calm. I remember the fear I felt when someone began banging on the door of our classroom and yelling at us to open up and get out – were they really the police like they said or were they the bad guys? I can see the State Police in “ready” position, I am running, I can feel the cold air, my students are scurrying, some are in my outstretched arms…
I still hold within me clear feelings and images of that horrific day. Twenty innocent first grade children and six of my colleagues were killed. They should still be here.
After the shooting, I made the decision to continue to teach in Newtown. I needed a path forward, though, to navigate the challenges and aftermath of what we’d been through. I don’t think our country handles grief well. There seems to be this expectation that we should bounce back quickly and “move on” after experiencing immense grief and trauma, and I think it’s just absurd. I believe that more space needs to be given to people for reflection, to share experiences and resources, and for peer support. I think anyone who has experienced trauma of any kind benefits from finding a community to help in the challenging aftermath – whatever ‘community’ means to them. The community I found, and who embraced me, was the Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action.
A few short months after the Sandy Hook shooting, I attended my very first Moms Demand Action meeting. Immediately I knew these were “my people.” I got to know other survivors of gun violence and hear their stories. I met people speaking out about the plague of gun violence in our country, I learned the facts and statistics, and I embarked on creative strategies for organizing. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for young people in our country. The effects of gun violence on teachers is significant as well, though we rarely, if ever, hear from educators about this. This is why two years ago, I, along with two other teachers and activists, launched our organization, Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence.
The direct and indirect impacts of gun violence live in classrooms across the country. Educators see it everyday in class as they navigate the anxiety, trauma, and distraction of their students, or have students who are falling asleep in class, or have students unavailable for learning, or have those who simply need more attention and care. Parents are terrified their kids won’t come home, and teachers are terrified that a day may come when they might have to protect their students during a shooting.
For too long, the educator perspective has essentially been missing from policy and safety discussions – we want to change that with Teachers Unifty to End Gun Violence. We need people in power to understand how gun violence affects teachers and school staff and their responsibilities, first and foremost, as caregivers. We want and need lawmakers to understand what resources are needed for students, teachers, and staff on campus after a school or community shooting has occurred. Arming teachers, mandating traumatizing active shooter drills, over-policing schools, and ignoring this crisis — these are not the answers. Teachers deserve a voice and I have no doubt that we will contribute to much needed change.
I know people must walk their own paths, but for me, there was no other way to move forward and regain some control after what happened than through activism. I needed to organize and get involved and do whatever I could to help stop these tragedies from continuing to happen.