In the days following the deaths of fourteen students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February in Parkland, Fla., eighth-grade English teacher Christina Torres sat nearly half a world away in Honolulu, Hawaii, crying at her desk. She had come home from school that day with a heavy heart, wondering what she would do if she and her students ever faced such a situation.
That afternoon, she poured out her thoughts on the subject for her blog at Education Week called “The Intersection.” Her essay, “A Teacher’s Response to Parkland: ‘I Don’t Know How to Protect You Anymore,'” which was recently selected as a Smart Brief Editor’s Choice winner, is a heartfelt response to the shooting and the helplessness both teachers and students feel when such tragedies occur and the thought that their school could be next lingers.
“Without question I would protect my kids at all costs,” Torres said during a recent Education Talk Radio interview, “but then I had this moment when I realized that there is nothing I can do against a bullet. That line [in the blog post], ‘my body is just as feeble against bullets as theirs,’ there’s only so much I can do to stop a hot piece of metal shooting at me.”
Torres, who teaches at Panahou School, a private school in Honolulu, says she’s always felt like one of her jobs as a teacher was to keep her students safe but confesses that “it’s hard to live in a world where I can’t do that anymore all the time. It’s so out of my hands now.”
Her students, too, have felt anxious in the face of increasing school violence. Torres recalls an 11-year-old student who, when asked to come up with a journal topic to write on, chose to contemplate what she would do if there were ever an active shooter on campus.
“Especially with the globalization of media, it’s really starting to hit home for a lot of my kids,” Torres says. “It’s frustrating because they should not be worried about this.”
Despite the anxiety and potential danger of setting foot inside a school every day, Torres says she still has hope for a brighter future — because of her students. She blames the lack of civility in the country on adults, not students.
“Since we are the role models for kids, I’m not surprised that there are some students that are mirroring the actions that they see perhaps online in the media, maybe even in their homes,” she notes.
Among her students though, she sees a different world emerging.
“I have to say, everyday teaching kids is the thing that keeps me hopeful and saves me, because at the end of the day kids at any school, including the fanciest private schools in the nation, they just want to be loved and generally to be kind to one another. It’s because they want to be loving. I think that’s something we lose as we get older.”
Candace Chellew-Hodge is a freelance writer and contributing editor in Smart Brief’s education department.
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