It's one I've had frequently since Columbine. During Columbine I was still doing my credential work and working as an aide in an RSP class in a continuation school (special ed class--kids who had learning disabilities so they read between a grade 2 to, oh, 10ish level but also had their own babies and were pregnant again, or were bouncing between juvenile hall and their "regular" school because they could still wield knives and guns and spray paint cans like nobody's business. They weren't supposed to spend any time with their gangs as part of their probabtion, but where would they have slept? Their dads, their uncles, their brothers, their sisters all jumped in. They had to go home. How could they get out. The only ones I know who ever got out either became famous or dead. Mostly dead.).
The day after Columbine we had a fire drill.
You would think they'd have rescheduled.
At that continuation school we even had a kid, one of my favorites, whom when I discovered he liked Edgar Allan Poe because there was a story in a textbook he had to read, I went and found a collection of Poe's stories at a used bookstore and he read every single one of them, wouldn't do anything else, and who were we to stop a kid like that from reading? A kid who wore a trench coat (especially after Columbine--just to throw us off) and cut into his arm in patterns, right there at his desk with his pencil while I asked him please not to do that. A kid who gave the book back to me on my last day there, because I leant it to him. I can't remember if I tried to get him to keep it, or if I took it back because I hoped I'd find another kid like him. I never liked Poe much. And then of course we had kids from rival gangs in the class, and there was that one day in the quad, where they stood facing each other and staring each other down and I noticed because it got silent and all the heads turned to see the action.
But all I saw was two little boys staring at each other with fear and anger and loneliness and pain in their eyes.
So I walked up to them because I loved them like little brothers and didn't think of anything else but wanting to save them from themselves and getting into more trouble--me, 5"almost5', probably 105 then, and said, "Hey guys, what's up?"
They looked at me and a light went on in their eyes and they walked away from each other while the volume in the quad went back up to lunchtime level.
Back in class everyone just did their work.
But ever since that Columbine Day, there's been the school shooting dream. I know I'm not the only teacher who has it. But I had it again last night. And for the first time, I was a high school student instead of the teacher.
In the old dream I had to protect all the kids. In the real life--awake--I always had a route out of our classroom and school planned. The school plan, the one we practiced, was incredibly inefficient and if there were really something happening, something serious, we'd probably all die in the funnel of the ramp to the parking lot. In my plan, we do a little jumping up a fence, a little climbing down the bushes--the way the kids always went when they were ditching and didn't know I could see them from my desk through the shaded windows that didn't really cool our classroom from the greenhouse effect at all. Sometimes: 90 degrees, 40 kids, after lunch, Anna Karenina and next door laughter, funny jokes being shouted and a publication being created.
Is it clearer now, why I'm taking a year off?
After Columbine, I always took my cell phone to the library with the kids. I should have brought my purse and my car keys because we wouldn't have access to those for maybe weeks or months if the school became a crime scene, but it was more likely I'd "lose" them while I helped some other kids find books or truly useful information online.
After Columbine, there was a plan for everything the adminstration could think of--we had packets and gloves and cards of different colors to indicate the level of help needed in our rooms--all OK, injured, dead. We had directions to use our trashcans for the toilet, to get under our desks, to get into a safe place in a room with 1/4 walls that were glass windows ceiling to floor, to lock doors that only locked from the outside in some rooms.
It was all very organized.
But in this Columbine dream (I know I had it because of Canada's shooting yesterday--they do this in college now, these poor sick kids are getting older, but now I remember it started in offices--we're all infected) I was a high school student. I didn't have to protect my flock. But I also didn't have anyone really doing a very good job protecting me.
It was a really weird combination of things, the way dreams are; my elementary and junior high school for the setting combined with some of the back of the last high school I taught in, and the last principal I worked for talking through a megaphone and what looked like the lunch lines saying something about team work and everything being OK if we get into the right line, and there were these two gangs with their spray graffitti that was brown. Why brown? And they even tagged in sky writing. I could see the planes, and all the kids looking up. The sky was their territory too. Brown (I now realize) like the tags behind my apartment building. Brown? Interesting choice. Maybe it was on sale? But there was an event that day, something like prom--we were all very dressed up--but I was with all my high school friends, in the band like we were, and we were shepherded into the music rooms and made to warm up but at the risk still of being shot and I turned my head and saw Mr. Hallback, my real band director and truest mentor in high school and for a while afterward who I can't find now that I'm married--he was invited but declined, though I used to have lunch with occassionally.
And then I woke up and had to shake the Columbine Dream feeling. But at least I don't have to go to school today and be vigilant. Today I get to read to little kids at story hour and their own moms and nannies will be there to take care of them. I won't have to keep counting heads, like I did when I took 70ish teenagers for four or five days to cities like Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Washington DC (where we were evacuated from the White House because a plane invaded its sky-territory (maybe they should tag it so it's more clear to beginning pilots--oops!)) but we met Dick Cheney because he fishes with one of the yearbook kid's dad... I have his signature on the Cedar Fire edition of our newspaper, but it's still in the manilla envelope the White House staffer sent it in.
Does anyone ever need to ask ever again why I need a year off from teaching?
My God, it's a miracle anyone survives high school the first four years they have to do it. To go back is an act of love and mercy and devotion to the dream that one person (in tandem with a bunch of others with the same dream), the dream that one person can make a difference in peoples' lives, can make the world a better place.
And no, the hours aren't great and we don't have summers off. I worked 60 to 80 hours per week--an hour before they arrived preparing the room, the props, the papers, and countless hours afterward reading and grading (a sin) their writing, not to mention all the journalism stuff which is a full time job itself, but one of the best jobs I'll ever have had. And in summers there are workshops and planning and meetings. So we get to sleep in and have coffee in coffee shops. For 180 days a year we can't even pee until the bell rings (two hour classes) and even then it's only if we're quick and lucky enough to talk to the kid who needs talking to, wait in the line for the two bathrooms for two buildings, and maybe eat at least part of the snack we brought, since breakfast was at 6 a.m.
If I get to keep in touch with some of those kids for the rest of my life it will be a life well lived.