1952. I was in the third grade at Thousand Oaks Elementary. I loved most of school. My teacher set up[ a classroom library, and invited us children to be authors. I wrote a book every week. Like every child, I looked forward to recess. Each day I ran to the swings. Carol, my best friend and I, loved soaring up into the oak trees at the perimeter of the yard, a magical flight, where reality dropped away. We were Tinkerbell, chasing Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, dropping in on the Darcy children.,the handsome prince, riding through the oaks on our way to kiss Sleeping Beauty.
There was also the times we could not escape reality. Regularly, we crawled under our desks, covered our ears with our elbows, as we listened for the aircraft delivering the bomb that could deliver us into oblivion. This was a “drill” we were told. Preparation for the real bombs the Russians were building.
Air raid drills were the scary interlude into our almost idyllic lives. Why did the pilot up there in that aircraft want to blow us into dust? I scanned the sky once in awhile, looking for thzt plane, that pilot. Could he drop his bomb when nobody know he flew overhead? And I was so scared f the aftermath. Once that bomb dropped, when my elbows over my ears protected me from the destruction of the nuclear rays, how would I find my mother? Could I still return to the safety of my own home?
The enemy was nameless, faceless. He came from some nameless foreign country wanting to kill American schoolchildren. He was not after me, nor Thousand Oaks.
Forty years later I taught at Sterling Elementary School. I read to them. WE visited the nasty sisters living with James in a giant peach, hunted with Billy and his hounds Little Ann and Old Blue stalking through the woods searching for coons.
Our drills were a bit more personal. We had to be vigilant because a faceless person stalked our school, threatened our children. At the alert, “Mr. Blue, please report to the office,” we quietly closed the doors of our classrooms, locked them. We announced nobody could leave to go to the bathroom. Now the enemy landed, paced outside our doors. And the children worried. How would they get outside, find their parents?
Today children are subjected to a different drill. They call it an “active shooter” drill. The children practice avoiding corners, staying below windows, hiding in their own classrooms as they prepare for a classmate to stick an AK47 in their direction.
The faceless Russian pilot I feared 60 years ago has been replaced by the face of the loner who sits back in the corner of the classroom, gets expelled for obstreperous behavior. How much more terrifying our enemy has become.
I remember an incident in the 70’s when I taught a self-contained class in a middle school. My students were identified with cognitive challenges. Actually these kids came from rural, poverty-stricken hollows outside of the University town where my school was located. My room was as far from the school office as it was possible to place a room. I got a call on the intercom one day. “Mr. Huff is on his way to your classroom. His son Richard has been placed in your classroom and he is angry. Watch out. He has a gun.”
I had never faced anyone with a gun before. I didn’t know exactly what to say as Mr. Huff walked up to my classroom door.
“You the teacher of the re-tard kids?”
“No. I have a class of special kids who like things explained carefully, and slowly. We all respect one another, and help each other learn.”
My students crowded around the door with me. “Miz Metlay, she’s an OK teacher. She makes us work hard in here, and we all help each other. It’s so much easier to do our lessons in a classroom like this.”
“Well.” Mr Huff spoke to Lana, Linda, Rita, Stevie and my other students. “Reckon my Richard will learn that way, too?”
“Oh, yeah!” they chorused.
I heard a legislator interviewed on the radio this morning. He had a solution for the school violence epidemic we are facing. “We will arm the students. Let them pass psychological screenings, then they can protect themselves.”
Whatever has happened to communication skills?
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"