Who is surprised anymore when news breaks that another school has been the scene of a shooting and the lives of everybody in that community are forever changed?
It happened again Tuesday in Colorado when two students allegedly opened fire in STEM School Highlands Ranch — a charter school campus with more than 1,800 students in kindergarten through 12th grade — and killed one person while injuring eight others. A student who charged one of the shooters to help protect others lost his life.
The Colorado shooting followed by just days a shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte that killed two and wounded four. A student tackled the gunman in that case, too.
We are in an era where students and teachers may find themselves in a position of dodging bullets or taking on shooters directly to save others’ lives.
The Colorado shooting occurred during Teacher Appreciation Week, which inspired one educator to write a letter honoring his colleagues and speaking to this moment in the country’s violent history.
The author of the following post is Rich Ognibene, a chemistry and physics teacher in New York who was that state’s 2008 Teacher of the Year and a 2015 National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee.
By Rich Ognibene
Today, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I’m thinking about the teachers (and paras, and secretaries, and administrators) at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado.
Like teachers at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and myriad other schools, they will be scarred for life from the trauma they’ve faced in a school shooting. They will cry for the students who were killed. They will feel less safe in the world. Yet somehow they will muster the courage to return and teach the kids they love.
They will be famous for a few minutes until the next shooting occurs. They will participate in marches and receive numerous thoughts and prayers from elected officials. They will hope that perhaps this time will be different. This time people will get serious about the ubiquity of guns in our culture. This time people will learn from the mountains of data showing that more guns mean more gun deaths. Always.
And eventually, like all the teachers before them, they’ll realize that nothing will change. They’ll realize that our irrational, dysfunctional relationship with guns is so ingrained in our political culture that even the death of children is considered an acceptable cost for this particular “freedom.”
They will be lectured by zealots about the unlimited power of the Second Amendment. They will be told that now is not the time to be political. They will endure suggestions that armed guards in every school will solve the problem. Yet somehow, with inner strength I can’t imagine, these teachers will find the courage to return and teach the kids they love.
It shouldn’t have to be this way. For all the many reasons teachers should be thanked, this should not be one of them. This is a choice we have made in America. Because it would be politically difficult to act, we have chosen to let children die.
Teachers and children live with the repercussions of this choice every day: lockdown drills, active shooter drills, bulletproof glass, single entry buildings, transparent backpacks, security guards — all things that reduce trust and make learning more difficult.
So if we truly want to show appreciation this week, besides thanking teachers, we must reach out to our elected officials and demand change that is evidence-based and proportionate to the size of the problem. I’m not holding my breath, but one can always hope.
In the meantime, I am appreciative of the millions of teachers who will wake up tomorrow and muster the courage to return and teach the kids they love.