You are safe with me.
by Peggy Browning
You are safe with me. I am your teacher and you should always be safe with me.
In 2004 I was employed as a third grade teacher at a Catholic school. It was five years after Columbine. It was eight years prior to Sandy Hook. Safety concerns had changed in the twenty-three years since I started teaching; they had changed before I opened my classroom door at Notre Dame Elementary School.
When I started teaching in 1981, I was concerned about my students boarding the school bus safely, climbing the stairs on the slide safely, and using blunt ended scissors correctly.
But twenty-three years and murderers with assault weapons and bombs changed our ideas of safe-keeping.
In 2004 we had protocols for locking doors, hiding under desks, checking each child’s presence on a list in the event of a school shooting* . We had a special bell signal that notified us if there was a shooter in the building.
“What will happen if a man with a gun comes to our school, Ms. Browning?”
They were eight –years-old. They were in the 3rd grade. And they felt compelled to ask me what we would do if someone came in to the school to kill us.
“You are safe with me,” I said.
“I will lock the door to the hallway. I will lock the door to the playground. You will get under your desks. Or we will all sit beside the bookshelves that house your crayons and markers and glue and we will hunker down and wait.”
I had a plan…the school had a plan.
“But you are safe with me,” I said.
“But what if he comes in the door? What if he comes in our room? What if he tries to hurt us?”
“I will not let that happen,” I said. “I will save you.”
Then I demonstrated my karate chops and my swift leg kicks and we laughed and they said, “Ms. Browning will not let anyone hurt us.”
It would not happen to us.
And I thought…any gun-wielding mother fucker that tried to hurt my students…my 27 eight-year-old babies who were learning their roles for the Thanksgiving play, singing songs of praise for God’s blessing, doing the readings of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Gospel at mass on Fridays, practicing their multiplication tables and cursive writing… I thought…Any motherfucker that comes here will have to get through me…not just past me, but through me…to get to you. And I will not let that happen, even if I have to sacrifice myself.
But it did happen. It did happen. Not to me and my student babies. But it did happen at Sandy Hook. And the motherfucker did have to go through the teachers and kill them first to get to twenty of their babies.
It is three years after Sandy Hook. And we haven’t done a thing.
What are we going to do about this? Karate chops and well-placed kicks don’t match an assault rifle.
Concealed handguns on teachers don’t work…it’s awkward to hug a little kid while wearing a gun. And a good guy with a gun…even a good teacher with a gun…is not a match for an assault rifle.
Something has to be done. Let’s have the courage to do it.
May all teachers be able to say…You are safe with me. God damn it, you are safe with me.
*school shooting is a misnomer. The schools are not shot, killed, maimed, murdered. It is the people in them that are slaughtered. It is the children.