The following is an email from my wife, a teacher in our state, to me on her first day back at school since Friday's carnage.
As I sit listening to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I cannot shake the absolute truth that teaching has changed forever. Although everyone in the school office knows my face, I could not enter my building today without using a swipe card. It was surreal to stand outside the place where I spend hours each school day, hands full with my laptop, lunch, coffee, and handbag, juggling to retrieve an ID badge and security card. Some of my colleagues felt so secure here that they couldn't even remember where their security cards were.
School has always been a safe haven for me, starting in 1959 when I entered Bond Street School in Asbury Park as as kindergartener. I'm not certain if the term "inner city" had yet been coined, but that's certainly where the brick monolith was located. There was no bucolic grass play yard, but we felt nurtured, loved, and most definitely, secure. Later, in suburban Brielle, we had that broad, green expanse of soccer and baseball fields, as well as the same deep sense of personal safety. In the wide halls of Manasquan High School, there were sometimes fights and often, bullying. However, I never felt the threat of guns or any sort of violence from adults.
This morning, I looked at my whiteboard, at the place where my sixth-graders "sign out" to go film their silent movies around the school. It is a naive reminder of what my school used to be a few short days ago. "We're changing strategies, kids," I announce as dispassionately as possible. "We are not going to be able to split up into editors and filmers, because I need to accompany you wherever you go." Sadly, I do not feel safe letting my most reliable students film a scene 100 feet down the hallway.
I check the windows (single-pane and on the first floor) to make certain they are closed; designed in the 1960's, they do not lock. Only one of my four shades drop instantly, the moment it is manipulated. I struggle with the others, up and down, up and down, ending up finally about three-quarters of the way down to the windowsill. Three different times during the morning, I step outside of my classroom to check the hallway door that leads to the outside. Still locked. A police car cruises the circle outside my classroom. No one comes to the front entrance, but if they do, they'll need to show a photo ID and wait to be buzzed in. This includes parents and the UPS deliveryman who have been coming to this school for a decade or longer.
Last week, I complained about the lack of heat in my classroom. Other teachers complained that the workload was not equitably divided among the staff. Today, I just slipped on my fingerless gloves and a moth-eaten sweater and closed my mouth. I am happy I have all of my children here; I can warm my fingers when I get home.
If I were to tell the truth, I would say, yes, I am afraid. Yes, I am nervous. But today, I will lie to my students. Maybe later, I will be brave enough to tell the truth. I will state, however, that this is MY profession's September 12. Our American school climate is irrevocably changed, and not for the better.