Back when I taught high school, I referred to my students as “my kids.” Sometimes, hearing this, a chatty hair stylist would ask me how many I had. “Oh about 180,” I’d reply. There would be laughter, and I would explain that I was a teacher.
Even though I taught between 150 and 200 students each year, and even though I usually only saw them for 60 to 80 minutes a day, my students became “my kids.” I cared for them deeply, and they found their way into my prayer life, my sermons, and my blogging.
One of my kids became my hero when he stood up in front of 120 faculty members and explained the pain and hurt that it caused him and students like him when his teachers allowed the word “faggot” to go unchallenged in the classroom.
One of my kids nearly broke my heart when he came back to visit a couple of years after graduation. We laughed when we recalled all the homework he and I had done together during his study hall. “I don’t know if I would have graduated without you,” he said. I asked him what he was doing for a living. He told me he was in the Army. He had already done one tour in Iraq and was headed back. My heart seized up in fear, but I tried not to show it.
One of my kids did break my heart. He committed suicide at the age of 15. I’ve never gotten over it.
One of my kids had a baby during her junior year and came back to school as soon as she could. While she was home with the baby, she kept up with her Spanish assignments by emailing me daily.
At least ten of my kids are teachers now. One teaches in Japan. One of my kids lives in Paris and works in fashion. One of my kids texts me every Mother’s Day, just to say “Happy Mother’s Day” because he knows it means so much to me.
I loved teaching and I loved (and still love) my kids. I can still remember how the Columbine shooting in 1999 affected my students and my colleagues. We talked about it – a lot. We were scared, and wary, and suspicious. Our school was about the same size as Columbine, and seemed to serve a similar demographic. There were kids in our school who wore long black trench coats. We teachers and staff reminded ourselves and our students that their choice of clothing did not mean that they were plotting mayhem.
Within a year after Columbine, we started having “lockdown drills.” These were such chilling exercises that even our normally cynical high school students didn’t make fun of them. We would huddle in the back corner of the room, lights off, classroom door locked on the outside. I can still remember the sound of our principal’s voice over the intercom. “Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown.”
We would all emerge from these drills a bit shaken, and inevitably a conversation about school shootings and gun violence would ensue, no matter what the scheduled lesson for the day had been. And unfortunately, the shootings kept happening: the Amish school in Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, the mall in Omaha, and so many others kept the issue fresh in our minds.
I spent a lot of time wondering how I would react in such a scenario. Would I protect “my kids?” Would I put my body between them and a shooter? Would I try to distract a shooter if he appeared in my classroom? I’m not a huge risk-taker, and I hesitate to claim such courage in the abstract, but I think the answer is yes.
It’s what we do as teachers. We love and protect our kids. It’s what the teachers, the principal, and the school psychologist did in Newtown. Several of them died in that attempt. It’s what parents do too, in our cities where gun violence kills children every day.
I’m sick and tired of watching kids and the adults who try to protect them die. I’m sick and tired of hearing about how sensible gun control is up for political debate. I’m tired of hearing that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
I’m tired of ridiculous “solutions” like arming teachers. I’m sick of hearing that there are 300 million weapons out there already, so there’s no point in trying to regulate guns now. And I’m disgusted by the claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”[i]
What if the bad guy didn’t have a gun in the first place?
I refuse to give up on the notion that we can find ways to curb the violence. I live in the Christian hope that bringing about God’s realm on earth means bringing about peace. For all our kids.