The day after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Elizabeth, a high school teacher at a school across the state, looked down the sidewalk to read what one of her students had scribbled in chalk. at the entrance to their school: “If you have a gun, please go outside.” The child’s message, innocent with its spelling mistake, was decorated with the drawing of a small white heart.
That day, Elizabeth began locking both doors in her classroom. She told her students not to congregate in the hallway, not to come in and out of the room all day, and “if you have to go to the bathroom, go fast and come back as soon as possible.”
“I don’t care how uncomfortable it is,” she said. “If the door of that fourth-grade classroom had been locked, the shooter wouldn’t have been able to get in. I have to remember that.”
Elizabeth, who asked to be called by her middle name because “it’s a highly politicized issue…especially in Texas, and I don’t want to put myself in danger,” all of this because she felt ultimately responsible for her students’ safety. “This is definitely not normal and everything I want to do with my students, but I felt it was the reality of that day, and I did what felt safest,” she said.
Previous mass shootings, such as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed 27 lives, have failed to push lawmakers to prevent future ones. The country continues to be awash with guns and few new burdens have been placed on would-be gun owners to stop future massacres. Instead, the burden of keeping students safe has fallen on schools — and ultimately on teachers.
In lockdown exercises, teachers are expected to train their students to hide and, in some cases, fight. Proposals to arm teachers to ‘harden up schools’ underline the message that keeping schools safe is ultimately the responsibility of the schools themselves, and of the adults in them.
“So many of our teachers come to the profession because they enjoy working with children. They love what they do, so they’ve always thought about how to help their kids. There is less focus on the emotional and traumatic experiences they have,” Prerna Arora, a school psychologist and assistant professor of school psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College, told cafemadrid. “We need to consider how trauma affects a teacher and their ability to be present and there for their students.”
And if the worst were to happen, teachers are often the last line of defense. While the police hesitated outside, two teachers in Uvalde died protecting their students from gunfire. Since their deaths, the two teachers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, are called heroes — a label that does not reflect the complexity of what teachers must do and be every day. They are expected to be counselors, nurses, human shields and more.
Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher who survived the shooting at Robb Elementary, explained how while preparing for a student awards ceremony that morning, he was shot twice by the gunman and witnessed the deaths of all 11 students in his class. “I did my best with what I was told,” he said in a… interview† “It has all gone too fast. Training, no training, all kinds of training, nothing prepares you for this.”
“We need to think about what happens to teachers when part of their job is expecting them to hug their kids under a desk during a mass shooting,” Arora says. “It’s a horrible image, the idea of having to protect your students from gunfire after seeing the film moana‘ said Arora. “This is the only job in the country where someone is basically expected to do this if it’s not part of their job description or what they’ve been trained for.”
In the days since the shooting, commentators and Texas lawmakers have given countless thoughts on school shootings, none of which pertain to gun safety reform. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Ted Cruz suggested officials “harden” the schools by letting one entrance in and one out. others have suggested arming teachers, or training students to fight gunmen, or making bulletproof vests available in schools for students and teachers. Other ideas call for a more imposing physical landscape: taller fencing, trip wire, metal detectors.
Many of the ideas, such as positioning “good guys with guns” or arming teachers, have not worked in the past. But they underline that lawmakers are likely to shift the responsibility for keeping schools safe back on schools and teachers.
“As a former volunteer firefighter, I can tell you that many of these ideas of closing schools are causing major safety concerns,” Josh, a Houston physics teacher who asked to use only his first name for fear of retaliation, told cafemadrid. “They also fail to address the root causes of shootings, which are access to guns and mental health. We don’t have enough counselors at our school and there just isn’t enough money to actually invest in mental health.”
He added: “We teachers have been attacked for many things this year. They don’t trust us to bring out the right books for our students, but they trust us to carry guns in schools?”
Rachel Graves Hicks, a high school career and technical education teacher in a major school district near Fort Worth, Texas, has already spent time preparing for shootings that could have been spent teaching. She routinely practices safety drills with her high school students. She tells them to put large furniture in front of the door, get out of sight, and be as quiet as possible. And when the gunman breaks through the door, she instructs her students to throw objects at them.
The burden can become too much in one day. “The day my district decides that teachers can carry guns in school, I will no longer work in the classroom. Point. I’m gone,” she said. “We tell them to throw monitors and chairs, anything that can stop the shooter,” she said. “Why isn’t this enough?”