I am a seventh-grade civics teacher at a public school in Dade County, Florida, and I am afraid to go back to teaching in the fall. Parkland is in Broward, our sister county. I think every day about the 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and teachers who were murdered at school. I think about the deep sadness that their moms, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins must endure for the rest of their lives. On February 14, Valentine’s Day, 15 students and two teachers were murdered. Instead of receiving red roses—symbols of love—they got shot. Loud screams of fear and helplessness filled the hallways and classrooms. Red which was supposed to be a symbol of love turned in seconds to a symbol of hate. Why did they have to die? Why did they have to die in school? They were supposed to carry their backpacks to the next class instead of being pulled out in body bags. Why? I ask myself these questions each day.
As a civics teacher, I teach my students about the Founding Fathers, birth of our Constitution and all 27 Amendments. Usually a healthy discussion erupts about the Second Amendment. Though my students come from many different political backgrounds and beliefs, all 150 of them that I see throughout the day agree that having stringent background checks and safe storage of guns does not mean abolishing the Second Amendment. My students come from countries as far away as China, Iran, Iraq, Sweden and Chile. Yet, they all question the frequency of mass shootings in schools, concerts and churches in the United States. Some of the students are African-American, White or Asian. They share fascinating stories about the differences of their various cultures including foods, religions, schools, laws and governments. However, they all agree about their right to stay alive. Purchasing guns and assault rifles for private use is not possible in their countries. After long and passionate classroom debates, all of them agree that weapons of war belong in the hands of military personnel. An AR-15's sole purpose is to destroy or murder many people. As I write this, I think about all of the children in neighborhoods across the country who are murdered while walking to school. Although the frequency of teenagers and young children who are killed from random drive-by shootings is greater around schools in low socioeconomic neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Overtown, the threats of students bringing guns to my neighborhood schools is a common fear. All schools have mandatory Code Yellow, Code Red and now Active Shooter Drills. Unfortunately, away from my school and these precautionary measures, some of my students frequently report to me about the sounds of gunshots and police car sirens resonating into their homes. One of my sweet students was accidentally shot dead by her older brother two years ago. I will never forget her charming personality and cheerful greetings.
We Can Fix This
America. It is enough! Let us show our youth that we value them more than our guns. Vote in the midterm elections for representatives and senators who are in favor of saving lives. I do not want to be afraid of being murdered in my classroom, room 232. I do not want to see any of my students murdered. Let us unite and fight for our lives through our votes!
Mayade Ersoff has taught in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system in Florida for over 20 years. She is active in local and national efforts to promote school safety. She is also involved with efforts to promote voter registration through GoVote Miami and 16+ Vote. Mayade is currently teaching seventh grade civics in Pinecrest, Florida.