“I’m not asking you to die for your students. I’m asking you to kill for your students.”
I expected our active shooter training to be heavy. But I didn’t expect to hear those words from our training officer. Nor did I expect to hear so much silence, punctuated with sniffling noses — adults sucking back the emotions that leak when the audio of the Columbine shooting blasts across your auditorium. Gut dropping sadness of gunshots outside a librarian’s door. Empathetic fear when she tells students that it’s going to be okay, not knowing or not showing that kids were being killed outside the door.
Next came the active shooter simulation. I was required to play the role of a teacher — my colleagues played my students. In the middle of a mock lesson, an officer acted as an active shooter, firing off blanks in the hallways. Others simulated children getting shot at, scrambling, screaming, pounding on doors as we locked them out within seconds — following the protocol: You don’t unlock a door for anyone. Not even if it is your own child.
The shooter screams the names of teachers, asking us to unlock the door or he will kill. More blanks shot off. More screams outside, as I weaponize my students. Shaking behind a barricaded door with a baseball bat. Wondering how teaching got to this point.
Kill for your students.
No college instructor, no mentor, no administrator or trainer had ever told me — ever knew — that being a teacher today might require me to kill an active shooter. To triage a suicidal student. To teach amidst a pandemic.
Yet this is what we are asked to do.
We are the fixers of society’s flaws, the keystone of wealth, health, and happiness. We are quick to be blamed and slow to be supported. Society expects us to do the extreme: to take down the shooter, to seamlessly implode and recreate distance learning in a matter of weeks, to prepare a generation for jobs that don’t exist yet.
Society wants me to teach like a superhuman. But I can’t.
And the pressure is within our own culture. We demand to be held to higher esteem; “We make all other professions possible.” Engineers, entrepreneurs, politicians, and doctors don’t exist without us. Our work requires elite concentration, education, dedication as we make 1,500 decisions a day (beyond which classroom objects can become weapons to take down shooters).
Edu-celebrities wax poetic with hollow mantras: I teach for the outcomes, not the income. Teachers and whole districts strategically film cookie cutter moments to go viral on social media. Books adorn our shelves like talismans of the superhuman myth. Teach Like an All-Star. Teach Like a Viking. Teach Like Your Ass is on Fire.
The external and internal pressures lead us to an inferiority complex. We’ve let the hollering of a minority bully us into proving ourselves — that those who do actually teach, that we are not glorified babysitters. We post about the excessive hours we work and the obsessive energy we pour into kids.
Edu-culture wants me to teach like a superhuman. But I can’t.
More than ever, there’s one thing I want: permission to just be a human. I want to be effective, to positively influence my students, to instill a love of learning. But I don’t want to be your hero.
I want to feel okay on the days when I don’t love my work. I want to prioritize my own family and well-being without being chided because I didn’t respond to an email that came in at 10 p.m.
I want my fellow educators to stop judging and competing with each other — to stop the lunch room trash talk that is eroding whole school buildings.
I want society to realize that I am trying my best to teach amid pandemics and active shooters and crumbling economies, but some days I feel crushed.
Maybe quarantining has helped you see that I’m not just a babysitter, or a disengaged grouch doling out worksheets and TED talks as I sleep at my desk.
But please, don’t expect me to be a Freedom Writer, a Ron Clark clone, a Viking warrior of education. Don’t expect me to teach like normal when the last year has been anything but. Don’t expect me to always smile or stomach another public slighting on social media. Don’t expect me to be an emergency SWAT team killer.
Give me support, give me trust, give me time.
But give me permission to make mistakes, to be afraid, to not know all the answers, to hurt like you hurt, to prioritize my own family and well-being. Treat me like a professional. Treat me with respect. But treat me like a human. That’s all I can be. That’s all I want to be.
Copyright Chase Mielke, 2021
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