Feeling Safe?

A second-year teacher, I sat alone in my room on the second floor of Park Junior High in Beckley, West Virginia, grading essays stacked 125 high on my desk. The dismissal bell for the day had sounded a few minutes before, but the building was already quiet, empty of the energetic horde of students and nearly as empty of exhausted teachers.

Hearing the wooden floor creak, I glanced up to see a young man I didn’t know standing quietly inside the door, watching me.  What happened next would have been beyond my comprehension up until that moment in time. I was sexually assaulted—not raped—but groped and violated in a way that made me contemplate ending my teaching career almost before it started.

It would not be the last time that I felt unsafe in a school.  Following my instincts, I once stepped between two boys who were fighting, receiving a bruising blow to the shoulder that one boy intended for another.  In another school, we had a year when mobs of kids surrounded fighting students, cheering them on, making it nearly impossible for a dozen teachers to break up the fight.  Another year, we were on lock-down because angry parents, accompanied by relatives, burst into the school looking for a student they felt had wronged their child.

And I taught in a school a couple of miles from the first shooting of the D.C. snipers, terrified, like everyone, by the randomness of a madman.  My daughter was a student at another high school a few miles away, and every time we were locked down that fall, I could hardly breathe for worrying about whether or not she was safe.

Would I have felt safer had an armed guard been in our schools?  We actually did have policemen in the schools part-time during some of those incidents.  And our schools do have a full-time staff of several security guards, many of them former policemen and policewomen.  But their presence doesn’t seem to deter monsters and madmen.

And so, today, when the NRA called our president an “elitist hypocrite” for accepting Secret Service protection for his children while most children have no such protection, I was happy to hear even famous people who usually advocate gun rights condemn such an ad.  I think about the times I’ve felt unsafe in a school and the times I’ve worried about my daughter’s safety, and I wonder how presidents and their spouses can function for worrying about whether a lunatic will harm or kill their children.  And yet these presidents—both Democrats and Republicans—do function.  They give their lives in service to our country in spite of the threats that face them and their families every day.

I don’t think I could do it.  But I’m grateful for all the presidents who have been able to put their fears in perspective to serve the people—even those people who wish them harm.  If it were up to me, I’d even approve Secret Service protection for First Dog Beau.  And so, Mr. President, may God keep you and Sasha and Malia and Michelle and Beau safe in the shadow of eagles’ wings.

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