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I interviewed a Special Ed Teacher about School Shootings

"Oh...while you're at it..."

*Trigger Warning* School Shootings

The Parkland shootings gave me intense anxiety about the safety of Sneak, and other students like her, who learn in a Special Education program at school. To be honest, all of the shootings make me deal with painful thoughts of my happy girl, dancing around and flapping as usual, while her teachers desperately try to silence her during an attack on their school.

The truth is, all teachers have a major responsibility when it comes to keeping our loved ones safe, but I feel that the Special Education Teachers across the country have a unique situation.

I imagine that as a General Ed Teacher, as soon as the announcement is made that the school is on Lockdown, the students pretty much fall into the routine that they’ve practiced and wait until they are cleared to move about as they normally would.

I imagine that as a Special Ed Teacher, as soon as the announcement is made that the school is on Lockdown, the TEACHERS then take on the responsibility of physically ushering students – some with physical disabilities – to safety, as the majority of their students would need significant assistance to get to safety.

I decided to interview a local Special Ed Teacher to hear their thoughts on how the most recent school shooting has affected them.

This raw (and anonymous) interview follows.

Me: How long have you been a Special Education Teacher?

Teacher: This is my 4th year, currently I am in the Learning Center teaching, and previously I was teaching in the School Community Based Program.

Me: Why did you want to become a Special Educator?

Teacher: I’ve always has a passion for teaching - specifically for teaching all students with differing abilities. I think that I have a gift where I am able to figure out students’ strengths and work with them in order to help them succeed.

Me: How is the protocol for a lockdown situation different for your class than it is for the General Ed classes?

Teacher: There is no difference… we all (in the county) have the same lockdown procedure so the procedure is…do you want me to go through the whole procedure?

Me: Yes

Teacher: Basically, what they do, is they’ll make an announcement that we are in lockdown and teachers are expected to close all of their blinds, turn off their lights, lock their doors, and move all students from any visible sight. Um… and… do you want me to tell you my thoughts on that?

Me: Absolutely…

Teacher: Basically… that realistically… is…not --- How do I say this?...

Me: Bullshit?

Teacher: Just…Yeah, it is…it’s bullshit!

You want me to rummage through my backpack or purse, get my keys, run outside of my classroom, put the key in the door, turn it – make sure it’s locked – and while at the same time, get everything--- I mean, I’m the 2nd classroom in the school on the 1st hall, so I mean…who knows? If there is a shooter in the 1st hall…I’m already done – I’m already taken out because I am outside of my classroom trying to lock my door. I mean, as I think about it, it is terrifying because, you know, every situation is different – of course – and I think, “What would I do with MY kids, because its very unlikely that I am going to be able to get my kids to be silent and sit calmly…

Me: Why is that? (I already know why – but wanted the teacher to elaborate)

Teacher: Because, my students, they have special needs and THAT is part of their personality, you know! Its gonna be really hard with heightened anxiety to tell my students that they need to be SILENT for an extended period of time.

Me: Right…

Teacher: You know, I thank GOD I have a big closet, and I always have a Para-Educator or someone with me, so hopefully I can have a plan where, you know, someone is in charge of locking the door and someone is in charge of throwing all of the kids in the closet! But…what if that is not enough – it’s not like anything is bullet proof. And then I also think about…if we did know where the shooter was in the building, I do have a door that goes outside, and I happen to park one classroom away from my car, so my thought is “OK, if someone is inside shooting, do I run all of my kids to my car and literally drive away?” You know? It’s terrifying!

Me: But the fact that you have to even think about that…like, the fact that the thought has even crossed your mind…is a problem within itself…

Teacher: Yeah…

Me: So, how have the recent shootings affected you personally?

Teacher: I think about it every day. Um…I have gone into my class and talked to the other teachers that I work with, to make sure that---you know, we WILL have a plan…

Honestly, I got a Command Hook, you know, one of those sticky Command Hooks, and I put it next to my door, and I hung my keys up on it, so that way – GOD forbid something happens – at least we can have immediate access to my keys. But it still, you know, it still takes---you only have seconds, and it still takes a couple seconds to go out and lock the door and make sure that all of the kids are taken care of. Um…honestly, I personally haven’t been able to sleep. Its just---having all of this on your mind and to---everything that we are doing…we are TEACHERS, and we want to make every day special! We are planning our lessons, doing out IEP’s, making sure all of their behaviors are in check, we are taking data nonstop, we are testing…we are doing everything, and in addition, in the back of our minds we are always worried that…”Holy Shit – something terrible could happen!” So, yeah…it gives me a lot of anxiety…

Me: So, as a parent, it also gives me a lot of anxiety – even something as simple as dropping Sneak off to school. I look around at---I mean, let’s be honest, the Special Education Hallways are usually off the main hallway of the schools. So – working in Corporate America and taking active shooter / lockdown training, I know that the shooters main goal is to harm as many people as possible. It could also be a case where a shooter decides to take the quickest route to the unsuspecting victims – which could be that hallway. When I think about school shootings, I’m baffled because as parents, we send our kids to school assuming that they will be safe and return home that afternoon. Like, one of the dad’s of a deceased Parkland student said on the news “I did what I was supposed to do as a parent by sending her to school, and me doing that got my child killed”. I felt so bad for him, because I’m like “DAMN! You didn’t get your child killed! Please don’t think that!” – but for the rest of HIS life, that is what he is going to think.

Teacher: Ugh…yes…

Me: So, I know that you follow the blog and are aware of my political opinions: What do you think about the President saying that teachers should be armed in order to protect yourselves and your classrooms?

Teacher: Its absolutely ridiculous! That angered me so much; I was furious! I mean, why is it the teacher’s responsibility to carry a weapon? That doesn’t make me feel safe at all! I heard Trump’s whole speech, and I heard him talk about “highly trained” people that have military backgrounds, and it doesn’t matter! Even if I was the one carrying the concealed weapon, I wouldn’t feel safe is another teacher had---you know, teachers have bad days too! They are all under stress and don’t need an addition of carrying a weapon on them at all times. Guns should not be in school. Bottom line. That is not the solution. I also heard Trump say that it would look bad if the schools had security guards on the outside, but who cares? It also looks bad that everyone in the school is getting shot!

Me: The security guard that was outside of Parkland was armed and didn’t go into the school until minutes after the shooting started, so it really makes you wonder, “Do you really believe that arming teachers is the answer?”

Teacher: Ugh – it makes me so livid. First of all, we need more funding – we need more funding for schools for…EVERYHTING! We need mental health awareness, programs and support! You know, there are so many things that we need that he is not even thinking about! The answer is not to give teachers guns – bottom line!

Me: From what I have seen and heard, even the people who do support Trump have consistently said, “No, arming teachers is not going to work!”

You know, I saw a picture – which I will share with this blog post – that shows a teacher holding all of the things that they are responsible for: Meetings – in your case, IEP meetings – schedules, special dietary needs, custody issues, CPS matters, etc. And the teachers’ hands are FULL of all of their responsibilities, but off to the side, another hand is giving her a gun. So, it’s saying “On top of EVERYTHING else that you have to handle as it is, we are going to give you this gun now, so you can protect your students!” And I felt that was an accurate picture.

Teacher: Yeah…and even going to school, you know, all of my schooling has been in Special Ed, and I take Professional Development classes all the time, but I have never even have imagined the possibility of taking an Active Shooting class! NO! I am an Educator – that (carrying a gun) should not be a teacher’s responsibility! Yes – 100%, we have to keep the kids safe and I would do whatever I can to keep my kids safe, but the answer is not giving teachers guns.

Me: I TOTALLY agree there. So, here is the last question…

What do you want people who are reading this, to know about how you feel as a teacher, how other teachers feel, about this entire conversation about school shootings and protecting your Special Ed class?

Teacher: I want people to know that f all of the teachers that I know, that I talk to, no one has said, “Oh, if that (an active shooting) happened, I’d run away!” You NEVER hear stories that a teacher ran or didn’t try to do everything they could to protect their students. All of my teacher friends know that we would take a bullet for our students – of course we would!

Me: And we saw that at Parkland…

Teacher: Yes, of course we saw that at Parkland!

Um…as we know that our responsibility is provide a positive, safe learning environment where our kids are thriving, and it is not our responsibility to carry a gun and shoot down bad people. We are giving our students love and are making them feel like they can succeed in that classroom… Oh my gosh…it just…angers me…

Me: Have you had any discussions at school with Administration since the Parkland shootings? Have they said, “OK guys, let’s have a meeting about this as we know that you all must be anxious in the wake of the recent tragedies…”

Teacher: No, nothing like that has happened. The county sent out a letter to parents on the website that just explained the protocols for lockdown, blah blah blah…you know – it is not realistic; it is bullshit. When do we do our shelter in place drills? We don’t do them during recess time! What happens if it DOES occur at recess time? There are all these little things, you know, and the reality is that it could happen at any time, so we need to know exactly what the protocol is and in addition – at least for me – I’m gonna make my OWN plan – in case, GOD forbid…

Me: You know, I’m glad you mentioned that if there were an emergency in the school and it was safer for you to flee with your class, you would – because in that scenario, that is a real response! I can’t tell you how many times I lead the Natural Disaster Training class in my office, but as SOON as we had that earthquake a few years back, instead of taking cover under my desk, I ran into the hallway – yelling – “An Earthquake! An Earthquake! ALL of that training went out the window and I went into panic mode!”

Teacher: Right! When you are in flight mode – yes, I am gonna grab up my Kindergarteners – thank GOD I only have 8 of them – My Para-Educator and I are gonna throw them over our shoulders and we are gonna sprint to my car if that is safer – or to the safest place! We really have to have all of these possible plans. To be honest, I keep my car unlocked now, because you never know…

Me: Well, I told you that I would not take up too much time so that was my last question. As promised, you will remain anonymous when I share this and I truly appreciate your honest, candid thoughts and feelings. Thank you for taking care of those babies!

Teacher: Anytime!

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