Historically, this week, in the middle of April*, is a scary one – and I’m not talking about taxes.
April 15th, 2013 was the Boston Marathon bombing.
April 16th, 2007 was the Virginia Tech shooting.
April 19th, 1995 was the Oklahoma City bombing.
April 20th, 1999 was the Columbine school shooting.
I’m sure many people have gone through the last five days without giving this much thought; but I have not. I’ve thought about those events – in particular the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings – a lot this week; in fact, I think about them almost every day to some extent.
For starters, I am of the “Columbine generation.” I was a freshman in high school when two Colorado teens killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher in 1999. It wasn’t the first school shooting, but it was the biggest and the most publicized. For me, and millions of my peers, it marked a change in the way we thought about school and violence. For the first time ever, I remember being afraid to go to school. There were websites set up threatening copycat attacks all over the country. My school had it’s first – and second, and third – evacuation due to a bomb threat that spring.
Before Columbine there was no such thing as a “lock down drill.” Outside doors to the school were left unlocked all day, and no one wore badges or IDs. Ask anyone of my generation, and I’m sure they can tell you who Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott are. I bet they remember the grainy news footage of Patrick Ireland climbing/falling out of a second floor window to safety.
In my memory, there is a clear distinction between school before Columbine and school after Columbine. Like 9/11 and the Virginia Tech shooting (this time less than an hour from my home and at the school where Jeff – and many of my high school friends – had only recently graduated) to come, 4/20/99 is a date that will always stand out in the “where were you?” archives of my life.
The other reason why this week is significant to me is because I’m a teacher. Today, my students don’t flinch when we talk about “active shooter” drills, and just since Friday three incidents have caused entire schools to be evacuated or placed on lock-down in my community… I don’t go to work afraid every day – not by a long shot – but I am keenly aware of the possibility of danger.
As a teacher, I spend the vast majority of my waking hours at school. My classroom is like my 2nd home, and my students (all 75 of them) are like my children. I feel safe here, but I also feel a tremendous responsibility.
I remember Columbine and Virginia Tech every time we herd our students into dark closets to “practice” – sure – but also every time I close my classroom door and double check that it is locked… I may be teaching Romeo and Juliet or rhetorical analysis, but in the back of my mind, I have a plan for what we would do if something were to happen.
All that said, I want it to be clear… I don’t live in fear of school violence. While there is certainly darkness in schools today, if teaching and being around teenagers for the last nine years has taught me anything, it’s that there is MORE LIGHT.
The problem is NOT “teens today.” The teens I know are incredibly hardworking and kind. They accept each other. They help each other. They are respectful and polite. They love their parents. They want to please their teachers. They are good friends. They stand up for each other. Yes, they use their cell phones A LOT; they do stupid things on social media, and they switch best friends every week – but they are WAY more good than bad.
There IS much to be afraid of in our world today; but, if you look hard enough, there is much to be proud of too. I know teachers that pray for every student by name every night. I know parents that make it a point to have dinner and TALK with their kids every evening – even if it is at 9PM when everyone is finally home from practice. I know Young Life leaders that show up at JV volleyball games and brave the high school cafeteria looking for kids that need to know they are cared about.
I am HONORED and fortunate to have a job that allows me to walk into – not only the classrooms – but the lives of my students every day. I see the goodness, and I get to make a small difference in brightening the darkness.
In honor of the 15 from Columbine and the 32 at Virginia Tech, I choose to live there. I hope you’ll join me!
P.S. You might also be interested in this post about why I teach the book Columbine.