‘I’m sorry’ didn’t feel like enough

Until we elect representatives who will act, even more children’s lives will be lost to assault weapons

May 8, 2023 5:40 am

Parents speak with a police officer at the scene of a shooting in which at least seven students were injured at the STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7, 2019 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. (Photo by Tom Cooper/Getty Images)

My first experience with active shooter drills was about nine years ago as a substitute teacher for 20 adorable, active, smart and relatively mature first-graders. The classroom was very well organized with inspirational and educational posters and decorations and had learning stations in which students were assigned. I expected it to be an easy and fun day.

When I arrived at the school, I was informed there would be an active shooter drill that morning. and I was to lock the door, turn out the lights and hide the children in the storage closet at the back of the room. I was to keep them quiet until someone knocked on the door to let us know the drill was over.  This was shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre so there had been only a few of these drills at this point.

An announcement was made to begin the drill, so I locked the door, turned out the lights and several students and I went into one end of the closet with most of the other students going in the other end.  There were boxes in the middle of the closet and some interesting supplies on shelves around the side of the closet, so there were lots of distractions and not a lot of room for 20 children and one medium- sized adult.

Kids were on top of other kids with a little shoving and a lot of frustration. A couple of the girls were crying; several little faces looked stressed.  I could not get from one end of the closet to the “troubled” end where a little chaos was going on. I said “Shh” many times, made lots of frowny teacher faces and waved my arms frantically but our class would not have won the quiet mouse award, and you can only do all those bodily motions for a short time until they become comical.

Needless to say the 20 minute drill seemed like an eternity to all in that classroom. I was particularly stressed that I could not keep them quiet enough and worried about what would have happened if this were real.

When the announcement was made that the drill was over, we carried on with the day’s routine. There was no discussion about what had happened; maybe there was in other classrooms, but at that point I would not have known what to say to these first graders. I’m sorry just doesn’t seem like enough!

Today these students are sophomores in high school. I wonder if they remember that day hiding in the closet with their substitute teacher. I hope they don’t remember my bumbling attempt and failure to keep them calm and reassured. I wonder if there are discussions about school shootings in classrooms today and the need for these drills in order to keep everyone safe. I hope they aren’t afraid when they come to school and that they take active shooter drills seriously. I hope that they are okay. I see these students occasionally as I still substitute teach, and have watched them grow up to be adorable, active, smart and relatively mature sophomores.

Active shooter drills are now as common as tornado drills, earthquake drills and fire drills. In Nashville, some of the students in the church school where the latest mass school shooting occurred evacuated themselves to a safe place, so the practice of planning for an active shooter paid off. 

Now students who survived this horrific event join so many other students from other schools who must deal with the nightmares, the loss of their friends and school personnel, and the memories of the worst day of their lives.

It is discouraging and disheartening that today’s students have to worry about being murdered in their school, or in their church, grocery store or at a concert. It is a shame children have to practice for such an event. 

Unfortunately, unless the representatives we elect agree that gun violence is an epidemic, know that more children are killed by guns in the U.S. than any other cause, and that assault weapons should not be available to just anyone who wants one, mass shootings will continue and more innocent lives will be lost. 

Imagine all the precious lives that a ban on assault weapons could save. With the exception of our military, who needs an assault weapon?

A child crosses under caution tape at Robb Elementary School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. During the mass shooting, 19 students and 2 adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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Judy Goddard
Judy Goddard

Judy Goddard is a retired special education teacher and current substitute teacher living in Frankfort. She is a coordinator for Together Frankfort, a civic engagement organization, and an activist for gun safety.