Thursday 6 June 2013

On Realising I'm An Emotional Wreck

This evening, Paul and I were channel-hopping, and we thought "Super Tornado" looked good. Normally, I find shows about natural phenomena really interesting, so it seemed the right choice. But when we started watching (a little after it had started), the programme was focusing on the staff and children at one of the two elementary schools that was hit.

I watched for a couple of minutes, wondering why it would occur to anyone to film this on their cameraphones rather than doing everything they could to watch out for danger and survive. Then they showed the footage of children and teachers leaving their hiding places and stepping out into an absolutely destroyed corridor. And I couldn't watch any more. I got very tearful, and had to switch channels to find something less school/college-focused.

This has happened regularly since I became a teacher. It never happened in any of my other jobs. I watched dramas about gunmen in court rooms when I worked for a judge (never worried me), footage of the July 7 bombings when Paul was commuting to that area of London (it absolutely bothered him though), and numerous campus incidents, fact and fiction, when I was a student, and it never affected me like this.

A friend once said that having children was as though someone opened a direct route to her heart and just left it exposed. I've never had children, and won't be doing so, and I would never dream of comparing being a teacher to being a mother, however much I mother and nurture my students. But I think I'm starting to get a better understanding of what my friend meant, and a little taster of what she must experience every day.

I struggled to deal with my feelings after the Sandy Hook shootings (in particular I couldn't get Vicki Soto and her sacrifice out of my head). Hell, I found it difficult to watch the "Silent Witness" episode "Shadows", and that was fictional. We have a lockdown policy for the College. My lab is the furthest point from the main entrance, so, one might imagine it would be the least likely place to have an incident. But that doesn't stop me spending far more time than is probably healthy, at least once a week, thinking about our lockdown policy, how quickly I could shut the door, turn off the lights and get everyone away from the windows. Where would I tell my students to sit? Would they be safe under the lab benches? Would the back of the lab under the windows actually be safer as we're on the 2nd floor?

I've become increasingly protective of my students. My manager has commented on this. And it's true - I will go up against Senior Management (and have done!) if a decision will adversely and unfairly affect them. I refer to it as "going Mama-Bear", though Paul says it's more that I'm the Khaleesi and the students are my dragons.

Do other teachers find they become complete wimps when anything violent happens in a school or college? Or am I just over-sensitive?


  1. There's no doubt in my mind that a major contributor to my mid-life acrophobia was the experience of watching a group of students under my and another adult's supervision run up to a cliff rim (~100 m), and lean out into the wind. Slightly different situation, but the point is, as teachers, we feel our own lives and well-being are linked to those of our students. Anything that does or could harm them also harms us. And we strongly empathize with other young people and their teachers. We automatically put ourselves into the (portrayed/reported) teacher's situation, and it *is* emotionally traumatic. As you say, I'm sure it doesn't hold a candle to being an actual parent, and as far as I'm concerned, that's sufficient reason for me not to become one.

    1. Agreed - if this is what I'm like with young people who I am not biologically related to, what would I be like if I was a parent?

      I'm reassured that it's not just me, though sorry that you've suffered for it.

  2. Under the windows in the corner where you keep the anatomy mannequins, the one where I occasionally run tests. Get low enough there and there's no direct line of sight to any window including the door and interior window. You might say I've considered options on this too; it's somewhat automatic for me now. But yeah, minimise the line of sight because you can't shoot what you can't see.

    1. I had a conversation on Twitter with another teacher just before writing this. She half-joked that I should make sure I had some concentrated HCl nearby. I said all I had was a retort stand. It made me wonder whether I needed to have something more that could double up as a weapon to protect my students if I needed to. Then it occurred to me that I'd probably use anything and everything I could get my hands on if it would stop them before they shot.

    2. Given that some thought too. I'd put myself behind your desk - the side furthest from the door - with the CO2 extinguisher. Fog up that end when I hear the first attack on the lock, wait for his footsteps as he stumbles through then pop up and thump him in the head with the butt of the extinguisher. A couple good hits'll knock someone out.

  3. We had an incident at school a couple of weeks ago with a gang fight that came onto school grounds... some gangs that some of my students are involved in had had a spat over the weekend and the older members came 'hunting' on the Monday. Knives and one guy had an axe!!!

    I felt like an apoplectic neurotic sheepdog!! "Get inside, no not that way, there's one missing, count them, one two... where is X? WHERE IS X?? Ah, right count again... one two... all accounted for... SHUT DOOR! LOCK DOOR! GET DOWN! STAY!"

    One student asked me "Miss, are you scared?" They knew that only those students involved in the weekend incident were at risk, that victims were not being selected randomly. The other students had actually FOLLOWED the action as if it were entertainment. They knew that they were not the intended targets. They of course ignored the fact that many gang-related deaths are people caught in crossfire.

    Was I scared? Hell yes!!!!

    Then one student wanted to 'go out'... he is involved in one of the groups, and it was 'his boys' who were out there trying to cut each other up. I just locked the door and told him 'hell no!'

    It raises a difficult question though: the threat is not always from without but from within. Sometimes the students you feel the most inclined to protect are actually the ones who pose the threat... scary thought.


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