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February 21, 2018

When Students Become Our Teachers

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for students to “get an education.”

Teachers go into education as a field, and we do so because we believe in education. We know that it’s important for students to get an education to give them an advantage, a pathway to something that will advance their future in some way. The whole purpose of an education is to open minds, expand knowledge, and prepare students for living in a world that is full of opportunities.

When I became a teacher, I never once considered “survival during a school shooting” part of that education. I never once considered “permit to carry” as part of that education.

I remember my first lockdown drill with my 9th graders. That was the first time I looked at our room- a door on each side of my huge classroom, with windows spanning the walls- from the perspective of a school shooter. In my classroom, there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to corral students for their safety. We were sitting ducks. I went home that night, and laid awake thinking of alternative exit routes in a variety of situations in which a school shooting could happen. I finally figured one out that would work in most situations. Learning how to activate and participate in a lockdown was now part of my education and that of my students: Shakespeare, Greek mythology, and lockdowns.

My children are 4 and 7, and they occasionally share with me that they do lockdowns at their schools. My husband is a middle school teacher and knows how to get his students to safety should a shooter enter his school. As parents, lockdowns and school shootings are now part of our education, and that of our very young children.

The realization that I could lose my kids and partner in school shootings, that they could lose their friends, teachers, and colleagues, is now part of my education, and theirs. They now know how to be as safe as possible during a shooting.

In recent days, I have been aware of an entirely different education. I’ve been watching, with my heart in my throat, as Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and so many of their fellow students moved through tragedy and grief and rising to a determined activism. Their powerful voices and hearts, wounded through their recent education as students inside the school during the shooting, show the bravery and resolve of the strongest warriors. They’ve learned about accountability and consequences. They have seen their friends and trusted adults die in their school. They are taking on responsibilities that most adults would fear. They are facing the world united, strong, and unwavering. They are teaching us what it is like to fight for their lives, and they are showing us that cowardice has no place in our society.

We, as adults, have a role in this education too. We can lift up those voices. We can stand behind them and hold them up. We can give them the floor. We can support, love, challenge, and fight for them. We can give them opportunities to share their knowledge, and to open minds.

Education should never include the lessons students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HighSchoollearned last week. But now that it does, let’s give opportunities, platforms, and the space for them to rise. It is not enough to believe them- we must also allow them to be the teachers.

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