Op-Ed

I will march with my students Saturday — for all our lives

On Saturday, March 24, I will march with students. I will march because school safety is a nonpartisan issue that affects us all. I will march because for the next decade I will send my own sons into public-school buildings and want them to come home safely.

I will march because I, too, want to feel safe at work. And I will march because of my ignorance.

The day after the Parkland, Fla., shooting, and three weeks after the Marshall County shooting, I opened class with a letter and a few questions for students to write about in their journals. I explained in the short letter that I was in ninth grade when the Columbine shooting occurred, that my school retaliated by banning trench coats, that I thought that response was dumb and perhaps still do, but I now understand that the school felt it had to do something.

Among the questions posed to students: “What can be done?” “Why do kids joke so much about school shootings?”

Students came up with feasible and practical plans to protect schools: loud alarms and strobe lights, smoke/fog machines, lock-down plans that only teachers know about and school resource officers. Not one student mentioned arming teachers.

But what’s perhaps most shocking about their solutions: They had been thinking about them for years. They think about the safety of their own school every time another school falls victim to a school shooter.

And why do they joke? “We joke because it’s the only way to not live in fear and depression.” That’s what I was told. By every single class.

We don’t know what it’s like to go to school with this fear. So much of parenting, and teaching, is dependent upon our past experiences. Therefore, so many of my colleagues do not understand why students protested during #NationalWalkOutDay, or why they are organizing for March for Our Lives. I’ve tried avoiding conversations about the march because I’m always confronted with the same question posed in a condescending tone: “What’s their message?”

Student responses to that question focus on having their voices heard; not being forgotten. They hate the way shootings dominate the news for only a few days. They feel let down by adults who pose solutions, but take no action. They do not have a single message because the problem is not solvable with a single solution.

I ended up scrapping my planned lesson that day, and we just talked. Sometimes kids need that. That’s another thing I learned: They do not appreciate that teachers so often avoid difficult topics because they “need” to go on with class content. I get it; teachers are fed the idea that time spent on non-content work is time wasted. But we teach children, not subjects.

In the days after Parkland, I doubted my professional choice. I discussed with my husband how I didn’t feel like I could do my job when anxious about even being at work. How I hate being told to scrutinize every person inside and outside of the school.

But I will not trade my job for any other. I love my students and I love that I can put some good into the world through my interactions with teenagers. The students organizing the march in Harrrodsburg have given me hope. That they are taking action makes me proud to put the future in their hands.

So, I will march for school safety. I will march for my own children. And I will march because I know that there are things that students understand that I cannot.

Megan Berketis is a high-school English teacher living in Danville.

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