The Crushing Weight of Responsibility

On Friday, as news of the Connecticut school shootings unfurled, I walked back to a room full of seventh graders. Fresh-faced rabble-rousers, ready to watch the film version of the novel we’d just finished reading.

They saw my face. And one asked, “Mrs. K, are you ok?”

How do you respond to that? I told them honestly that I wasn’t.

I sat and watched them as they watched the movie. Their rapt expressions, their carefully (or less carefully) coiffed hairdos and meticulously chosen shoes. Their binders with artwork, and notes about Justin Bieber, and heads full of Christmas presents and tweenage gossip. Hearts full of love and promise.

And I felt it settle upon my shoulders, this invisible burden. The mantle that is the crushing weight of my responsibility.

These children are my children. My own children were miles away in a day care center and a school. Their teachers, I knew, were feeling the same yoke lowering onto their necks. The one that we willingly take upon ourselves. I teach them from books, and I try and teach them to be good people. I laugh with them, and sometimes I cry with them. Sometimes, I shake my head because of them, and sometimes they make me so frustrated that I want to crawl into bed and hide for a day.

But beyond that, I have an essential responsibility to keep them alive. I would stand in front of someone – anyone – that tried to harm these children. Because that is what we do. We take these children into our hearts and our classrooms with a solemn promise to do right by them. And if someone tries to go against that?

They’ll have to get by me first.

And I’m pretty formidable, if I do say so myself.

***

This is our first task – caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. – President Barack Obama

***

This morning, the kids were abuzz with news of the shooting. I held up my hand, and said that I would say the following, and that we would then say no more.

I will do whatever is in my power to keep you safe. You are safe with me. Every teacher in this school, and every principal, every aide and every other adult – we will protect you. You don’t need to be afraid. I will protect each and every one of you – even when you drive me crazy. Because that’s my job. 

And I watched them relax. And even though there are things to fear, and there are very real monsters out there – my room was mine again. It didn’t belong to fear – it belonged to learning, and the promise of midterms and Christmas and laughter and telling that one kid one more time to please for the love of Walt Disney stop talking. 

I wear the mantle willingly. I never thought about it before I became a teacher, really, but now I am a teacher. And a parent. And I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.

Because that is the crushing weight of responsibility.

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