I’ve been teaching in New York for five years now – and this is my third year teaching the fourth grade.
Although this isn't the first time that I’ve heard the news of a school shooting since I began teaching, the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which occurred just 10 days after a racially motivated shooting in a supermarket in New York's Buffalo, just feels too close to home.
This is the 27th school shooting this year alone.
I look at my nine and 10-year-old students and wonder how these little humans process what is happening around them, and even more so lately, with the crime surge in New York.
'Why Do We Have to Live With This Fear?'
As a teacher, I have played out multiple scenarios in my head on how I would respond if something similar were to happen to me. How would I conduct myself in case there's an active shooter roaming inside the school building looking to attack the most vulnerable humans in society?
My number one priority would be the safety of my students while keeping my wits about me. There are of course safety protocols in place in case there is an intruder in the school building, and we practise lockdown drills regularly to prepare for such emergencies.
As part of the drill, we stop what we are doing, switch off the lights, check the hallways to make sure no one’s there, and lock the doors. Meanwhile, students in the classroom are quietly moved to a safe space away from all windows and doors. We stay like this till the principal lifts the lockdown.
By fourth grade, children are pretty used to it. But we do get questions here and there about why we practise soft lockdown drills. We are very transparent with the kids – and, at the same time, we reassure them that we are there for them come what may.
But the fact that we live in a world where we must equip ourselves and our students for such incidents is heartbreaking – and traumatising. Despite these well-researched safety protocols, I am still frightened.
Why do we have to live with this fear in the one of the largest economies in the world? Why do our children need to be put through this exercise of being ready for a probable danger of this nature?
I know I am prepared, my muscle memory will guide me, but what would I really do? I hope I never have to find out.
'Uvalde Shooting Left Students Feeling Scared & Confused'
My students, although naive, are at that age where they are trying to make sense of the happenings around them. They ask thoughtful questions about events taking place around the world, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine or the murder of George Floyd.
The digital world that we live in ensures that our students are exposed to news just as quickly as we are – and the only way to stop the spread of misinformation and prevent panic is by addressing these issues and not brushing them away.
As a teacher, I feel it my duty to provide my students with a classroom environment where they feel safe and comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings freely.
After the tragedy in Uvalde, the students didn’t ask many questions about the shooting. The teachers started the discussion by asking them what they had heard in the news.
We focused more on their feelings and reassured them of their safety inside the school building. When we did do a check in with them, a lot of them shared that they were anxious, fearful, scared, and confused. We did a check in with them after the discussion – and most of them shared that they felt calm and at ease.
How the School Prepares for Kids' Physical & Mental Wellbeing
Parents, too, have been concerned regarding the safety of their children. They want to specifically know about the steps being taken by the school in case an active shooter was to enter the school building. Our principal has informed them of the lockdown drills that we practise regularly.
As a rule, all the doors in the school are always closed, except for the front door which is manned by a security guard at all times. The security guard is the same on all days, so the students are comfortable in their presence since it’s a familiar face.
As for the social emotional learning lessons – or SEL lessons as we call them – we have been regular with them since the pandemic with the kids displaying visible signs of disengagement and stress. We usually start our day with a SEL lesson and do them at least thrice a week, focusing on skills such as self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships, and decision making.
The idea is to help the students identify their feelings, elaborate on their causes, and discuss strategies to shift or maintain them to have more positive experiences at school and their relationships.
During these discussions, we reassure our students of their safety, remind them of the protocols in place at school, inform them of their responsibility to avoid spreading any misleading information, and, most importantly, advise them to approach an adult in case they feel overwhelmed or have questions.
Every time I have these conversations, I hope I don’t have to indulge in them again. After all, they are only children.
Hopeful Resilience in the Face of the Fear of Evil
I look around myself and I see resilience, not only from the teachers, but students and parents as well. I want to be resilient too, but in the face of so many tragedies and killings around me, I feel a part of me has become desensitised and I question the prevalence of goodness around me.
I spoke to my colleague recently, who shared that she recently received a letter from a former student, who seemed to be going through a similar predicament as me. She asked my colleague if her view on life was still the same, that there is far more good in this world than evil, especially in the light of these recent events.
I asked my colleague what she wrote back, and she said, “Of course there is more good than bad. That’s all that we can hope for.”
It was so simple, yet so profound.
At that moment, I checked in with my own emotions and told my somber self to be just a little bit more hopeful. Hopeful that sense will prevail and this country, which was founded on the principles of freedom, will provide its citizens with freedom from living in an unimaginable fear of sending their children to school every day.
(Swati Bindra lives in New York with her mother. She is currently working as a special educator in a New York City public school. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a blog and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)