Our classrooms are not combat zones

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I’m not a particularly demonstrative man, but I can distinctly recall the drive home from work after teaching my classes on December 14, 2012, when I pulled to the side of the road and cried.

The news on the radio had rattled me to my core—both as an educator, an American and, above all, a human being. On this day, 26 people were slaughtered, 20 of whom were children 6-7 years old at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. 

A young psychopathic male with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle mowed down a classroom of kids, and I remember thinking that this had to be the breaking point for this country’s sick and salacious obsession with guns. What some perceive to be inexorable rights granted by the Second Amendment would finally be met by responsible gun laws and reasonable restrictions. As a nation, we couldn’t possibly allow this to continue.

I was wrong.

So here we are again. Another young psychopathic male with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last month, and we’re, again, collectively scratching our heads and errantly doling out blame.

It’s mental health. It’s school security. It’s the media.

No. It’s the guns. We’re far from the only nation in the world with people suffering from mental health issues, and we’re far from the only nation with violent media. What sets the United States apart is the fact that young psychopathic males have access to semi-automatic assault rifles designed to create mass carnage.

Robb Elementary School
Police lines set up outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 27, 2022. Wikipedia

I’ve spent my entire professional career—over two decades now—teaching in public high schools, and I’m confounded. I was teaching in North Las Vegas in 1999 when two psychopathic young males with access to semi-automatic assault rifles—among other weapons and homemade bombs—killed 15 people at Columbine High School in Colorado. 

A week later, our school was evacuated, and more than 2,500 students and staff stood in the desert sun for nearly three hours after threats were made online, smoke bombs detonated in the bathrooms and fire alarms pulled. 

Throughout my career, I’ve been through countless trainings, including drills where people run through our classrooms firing Nerf guns to replicate an actual shooting, so we—teachers trained to administer lessons—will know what to do if a young psychopathic male with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle enters our school.

Although the truth is that training teachers—or arming us, as some have suggested—is not the solution, nor does it address the real problem. 

Like every one of my colleagues in the profession, I’ve mentally entertained the thought of what I could do if a young psychopathic male with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle were to enter my classroom. 

My answer is, sadly, not much. I would try to evacuate and protect my students, but when civilians are carrying firearms capable of dismembering an adult, the odds are stacked against us.

Teachers were collectively crapped on following the pandemic. We were blamed for administrative decisions regarding remote learning and mask policies, accused of professional latitude and demeaned in public forums. 

To no one’s surprise—and the alt-right’s glee—our nation now faces a critical shortage of teachers

And who can blame the young people for not wanting to enter the profession? 

Young people will incur insurmountable college loan debt for a marginal salary in a work environment where a young psychopathic male with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle could enter their classroom and make ribbons of them and their students because some GOP senators—bought and sold by the NRA—continue to defy the will of the vast majority of people in America to pass sensible gun laws.

It’s not exactly a compelling pitch to go into the field.

I wish I could say that I also cried when hearing about the tragedy in Uvalde. But I didn’t. I’ve become somewhat inured and desensitized to the real fact that in The United States of America, our classrooms, have become combat zones.

And, quite frankly, something has to give.  


About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com