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A 6-year-old shot his teacher?

A 6-year-old shot his teacher.

Since Friday I have been repeating this over and over in my head, like the broken record of phrases I use to redirect students back to important tasks. At times it comes in the form of a question. Other times it comes as a yet unbelievable statement of fact. My usual broken record  phrases are far more trivial:

“Let’s get our paper out, Bryan?”

“Let’s get our paper out, Bryan.”

But now, the record player of teacher phrases I commonly use isn’t just broken inside my mind, it’s jagged and twisted and it feels rotten. It’s far more complicated than it used to be. It used to feel necessary. Now it feels wrong. My broken record is turning again and again, leaving me with other phrases, scaring me with other thoughts. They are questions mostly, that also continue to repeat, over and over and over again in my mind.

How does a 6-year-old get a gun to shoot his teacher?

How does a 6-year-old bring it to school without shooting himself in the process?

How does a 6-year-old hold a gun, point it at his teacher, and pull the trigger?

How does a 6-year-old feel when he does that?

How will that 6-year-old feel about shooting his teacher when he is seven? When he is 8? When he is 18? When he is 30?

Who is responsible for a 6-year-old having access to a gun?

What will happen to a 6-year-old who shoots his teacher? 

What will happen to a 7-year-old who shot his teacher when he was 6?

What should happen to a 6-year-old who shoots his teacher?

What happens to the teacher who is shot by a 6-year-old?

How does that teacher feel if that teacher survives?

Will that teacher survive?

How would a school prevent a 6-year-old from shooting his teacher? 

What will happen to the entire school, the staff and the student body after a 6-year-old shoots his teacher?

What will need to be done to make them okay afterwards?

What will happen to other students who learn that a 6-year-old shot his teacher?

What will happen to teachers who learn that a 6-year-old has shot a teacher?

The record player in my mind spins, and it spins and it spins. All of my other teacher phrases since Friday seem gone, and although the player is broken, it’s still spinning with these same questions I really do not know how to answer. I know how to put an end to the broken record of my mundane teacher phrases. The answer to those dilemmas are more straightforward. I can get Bryan to take out his paper. I know how to differentiate instruction during writer’s workshop. But these questions, I have no answers to. 

Why do I feel like I need to answer them?

Why do I feel like I don’t want to answer them?

These questions are not questions I want to think about in addition to all of the other ones my job entails.

Except for one. 

I know there is one question that must be answered. One question, repeating over and over again, I do want answered. 

There is one question that spins and spins, repeats and repeats, and I feel that if we don’t answer this one soon, if someone doesn’t answer this one soon, it won’t be long before we are asking even worse questions, impossibly worse questions, although I cannot yet imagine such questions, I know other questions are there, waiting for us to continue to do nothing.

Waiting for us to simply call this senseless, when there is sense here to be made. Waiting for us to spread hope and prayers over a problem  that so clearly needs real change. Waiting for us to excuse how a 6-year-old brings a gun to school and points it at their teacher. Waiting for a society afraid to confront the realities of another preventable shooting and has continued to allow it to happen.

Waiting for us to argue back and forth, instead of taking action. 

Like we’ve done so many times before.

And that is why the question that I fear the most, but the one I know we cannot ignore is the one that repeats itself in my mind, again and again, like the next shooting, and the next, and the next. A 6-year-old shot their teacher last week. Our record on school shootings isn’t tragic. It’s broken. 

When  are we going to keep our children and our schools safe from guns?

When are we going to keep our children and our schools safe from guns?

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Thomas Courtney is a senior policy fellow with Teach Plus, a member of Edsource's Advisory Committee,...

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