It’s not often my kids make me angry.
Yes, sometimes, they make me sad. They say hurtful things; they experience trauma in their lives; they express opinions so unfounded in fact or love that I feel genuine sorrow.
Sometimes, they frustrate me. They talk when I’m talking; they throw paper across the room; basically, they act like kids. And I get annoyed.
And of course, they make me happy. And proud. A lot. That goes without saying.
But it’s not often they make me mad.
It was my Year 9 students who did it. To give you some context: they are a wonderful bunch of teenagers. They are curious, engaged, mostly do their work and are generally lovely. I knew I had hit the jackpot at the beginning of the year when I realised my biggest behavioural concerns in that class were going to be a couple of kids throwing paper around the room when they got bored.
So when we had a lockdown drill recently and I saw I had this class during the drill, I wasn’t worried. The bell would go off, we would turn the lights off and hide under the tables until the drill was over.
When the morning came for the drill, I was actually feeling a little weird. A few nights before, I had had a dream about School Swimming Sports. I had been swimming (for some reason) and a student had jumped into the pool and stopped me midway to yell, “You need to stop swimming and get your gun!” I couldn’t remember much else of the dream, but I woke up feeling strange.
Okay, I thought. So Donald Trump’s comments are in your subconscious. Well, we’re never going to be arming teachers in Australia. And we won’t be. I pushed it to the back of my head, where I tend to push the uneasy, slightly sickening feeling I get when I think about some of the things Trump has said.
But he was still in my head. And that was enough.
When the bell went for the drill, I told the kids what was happening and what we had to do. To my horror, as I was going over to the door to lock it, one of my kids yanked the door open and ran outside. He began running around the pavement outside the classroom with his hands up in a pretend gun, as if he was protecting us from intruders. I ran after him.
“This is extremely inappropriate,” I told him firmly. “You need to come back inside right now.”
He came back in, where he proceeded to do somersaults around the room as if he was James Bond.
I eventually got him to sit under a table. Then mayhem ensued. Two kids started hugging each other and fake sobbing loudly, pretending they were going to die. The others were in fits of laughter, taking Snapchats and making so much noise I couldn’t hear myself talk over them.
Now, I know it was a drill, believe me. And I know that kids take Snapchats at every opportunity and that wasn’t what really made me mad.
What made me mad was the complete joke and ridiculous situation they had turned this drill into. It was chaos in the classroom. A joyful chaos.
I was hiding under a table myself. I stood up in the middle of the lockdown and yelled at them.
I have never yelled at them.
I have never yelled at any of my students.
But I yelled.
It was something along the lines of: “How dare you turn this situation into a joke! I have never been more disappointed in you than I am right now! STOP BEING COMPLETE IDIOTS RIGHT NOW!” I know at this point my emotions were completely and unprofessionally doing the talking. But I was SO MAD.
Then the kids said a few things that turned my anger into sadness.
“Miss, why are you so angry about this? It’s just a drill. And anyway, if anyone came, we’d be fine.”
“Yeah, Miss Parker would whip out her gun and shoot ‘em if they came in!” another student laughed.
I didn’t even tell him off. I was just too sad.
So we sat there quietly (them I think in a little shock that I was in fact capable of yelling) for another 5 minutes until the drill was over.
I kept my Year 9s back at recess. They sat there silently, and I tried to explain why this had upset me so much. I nearly started crying, and I wasn’t even quite sure why myself.
“The chances of something happening to us here are somewhere next to zero,” I said. “But these things are happening in other places. And we should never make a joke out of them. And please, think carefully before you entertain the idea of teachers anywhere having guns at school.”
I left the class, still half seething, still very sad. And wanting to write this story.
I actually grew up in America, so I’m no stranger to the threat of gun violence looming. And I know Australia doesn’t necessarily have the same threat, but I think that’s irrelevant. It still makes me sick to my core. I don’t care where it’s happening. It’s something we should all realise is happening.
I have tried to disengage from the gun control situation happening in America. But it wasn’t until this moment I realised how much it was affecting me. Trump suggesting we should arm teachers; that was the final straw. Because I realised, standing in a dark room with 17 teenagers hiding under tables, that I couldn’t keep that idea buried at the back of my head with the other Trump atrocities. I realised how absolutely sickening and awful the notion is.
Trump has said and done a lot of things that have made my blood curdle. But this is without question the worst. I don’t care if it seems close minded thinking there is no grey area to this. It’s more black and white than anything I’ve considered in my life. I felt it, in that moment.
In my third year of teaching, these are still the kinds of instances that affect me most. That make me realise again and again that the most important things teachers can teach their students are separate to the Curriculum we follow. They are lessons about the world, about humans, human nature, life. How to try be a better person, maybe.
They are lessons about love.
I hope I conveyed that to them in some way. I really do. Because little moments like this, no matter how unsettling, remind me why I’m still teaching. I really hate how corny that is.
But it’s true.