The Lesson I Never Wanted To Teach My Students — But Now Have To

This message deserves to be shared.

My students are international students — from Asia and the Middle East and Europe and Africa. They traveled thousands of miles to take the English classes I teach here at Arizona State University, here in the so-called "greatest country on Earth" where there were four gun-related incidents at schools and universities this morning. 

My students did not come to this country to be shot. 

My students should not come to my classroom three times a week wondering if they're going to be shot by someone in a hallway. 

I should not have to walk to my classroom three times a week wondering if there will be a shooter coming through my unlockable door.

I should not be Google searching "What to do if there's a shooting at school."

I should not be considering starting my class with a 10 minute safety lesson on how to barricade a door or stab someone with a pen or how to run zigzag down a hallway or how to use a fire extinguisher as a smokescreen.

Those should not be the lessons I teach my students today.

Those are not the lessons I have been trained to teach.

(Where is the nearest fire extinguisher anyway? I don't even know...)

Should I reference the Northern Arizona University shooting in class today? Should I pretend like it didn't just happen 140 miles from here? Do I tell them to be careful on campus today, in their dorms, in the union building, on the sidewalk? Do I tell them that in an emergency situation I will do everything I can protect them? Do I tell them that I don't know how brave I will be if this happens in my classroom? Do I tell them what just happened in Texas, in Pennsylvania, in Kentucky?

Just a couple weeks ago I had to field their questions about the sniper on the I-10 highway going out of Phoenix, and why on earth something like that could happen in this great country.

Thank God all of my students are international students and don't own guns.

I can tell you I would be terrified of teaching today if I were teaching a room full of mainstream American students.

I can tell you that I am nervous when I realize that this hallway is full of other classes with other students, any of whom might have a gun in a classroom right now, any number of yards or feet away from me and my students.

I can tell you I was terrified last year when one of my failing students, who told me he had anger management issues and self-harming tendencies, said he wanted to write his essay on the Columbine shooting. I can tell you how scared I was reporting him to Counseling Services, wondering if I'd find him sitting in the front of my classroom one day with a gun, or coming to my office hours to kill me. 

Why am I walking to class practicing what I would say to a 911 operator?

Why do I feel like I have to apologize to my students on behalf of my country, this developed country, this world power, this self-proclaimed greatest country on Earth, which can't even guarantee them the basic right to a safe and secure learning environment? Which can't guarantee me that I won't die while teaching my students about thesis statements and MLA formatting?

Living in the "greatest country on earth" should mean that I'm not scared of going to school or of teaching my students, not scared that this morning could have been the last time I would see my husband. 

At my teacher desk, I imagine his arms around me and hope I get to feel them again. I hope that all of my students and peers and professors survive their classes, that they don't have to run or fight for their lives today. That the laws will change. That the outcry will grow louder. That common sense will become stronger than bullets. That I will someday be able to go to my classroom, my office hours, my campus — unafraid.


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