My Hands Will Ache and My Voice Will Shake, But I'll Be the Change That Helps Protect My Students

This week I came back to work after a five-day break. My 116 high school students should have been returning from a long weekend filled with too much sugar, trips to the movie theater and binge-watching Netflix. Instead, they spent the weekend wondering why this had to happen again. "This," of course, is the news of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It comes as the young people in my classroom are still adjusting to the aftermath of the October 1 mass shooting that happened here in Las Vegas. I can only imagine, as unaffected as some of them may seem, that they are afraid. For many of them, school is their home, one of the only places that they feel safe. This week in my classroom, I tried to instill a sense of peace in their lives, because I never want that safe feeling to go away. The timing of all this is especially jarring because I have been feeling so hopeful lately. Just last week, I returned from my 10th trip to Washington, D.C. It had been a different kind of trip to our nation's capital. On previous visits, I’d been part of a group—with my family, or with my colleagues. This time, I was mostly on my own, save a few hours a day spent at an education conference. Bundled in my winter attire, I spent my time mentally cataloging the architecture, mindfully taking in the history I was surrounded by, and reflecting on my role as an educator and advocate. As I inhaled the smell of books from inside the Library of Congress, wept at the installations at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, pondered the history of feminism at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and simply took in the history and stories behind monuments and buildings around D.C., I genuinely felt like there was hope. I assigned a theme to my four-day adventure: the power of bringing people together to create positive change. Be it in an office, on a hill, in the name of justice and freedom, or to support one another, being together is powerful. The optimist in me looked at this trip as part of a hopeful future. More people coming together to affect change—fewer people tearing things apart. I spent my flight home newly inspired to elevate the voices of my students and my colleagues. I brainstormed ways to integrate literature, art and opportunities into my curriculum that would act as catalysts for rich discussion and reasons to come together as a community. It has always been a mission of mine, but this trip strengthened my resolve to amplify my efforts.

The Good Feeling Didn't Last

But then a few days later, another shooting. Another. So, like my students, I spent my weekend wondering why this happens so often. Saturday night at dinner, my husband, who is also an educator, and I asked our two children to recount their last hard lockdown. Did they know where closets and cabinets were in their classrooms? What would they do if they were in a hallway or the restroom during an emergency? We answered questions, tried to alleviate fears and more than anything, tried to instill a sense of peace in our own children's lives. Now I, along with countless other educators are faced with options. What do we do, as individuals and collectively, to rebuild a sense of hope in our classrooms and in our own homes? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but if I know anything, I know that my fellow educators are mobilizing, writing letters, making calls, engineering plans to make our schools and our world safer places. More people coming together to effect change; less people coming together to tear things apart. There is power and hope in bringing people together to effect positive change. Teachers, students, parents, advocates, friends and neighbors coming together to make sure that our legacy is one we can be proud of. One that leaves an imprint on history, even if tiny, that says, "We wanted change, and we made it happen." I want my students and my own children to be able to see people standing together in solidarity to make their futures safer, more accepting and more loving. I need them to know that their school days are about poetry, equations, science and building relationships, not about dissecting the room for places to hide from gunfire. This teacher's journey is positioned on an ever-winding road, and I have just taken the fork towards activism. What may have looked to any outsider as a lone woman from the desert wandering around in the blistering cold of Washington, D.C., was really a new beginning. Though my hands may ache from the letters I will write, and my voice may shake from the words I must shout, I will do what I can to be part of the change. Our kids, my kids, we, are all worth it.
Stacey Dallas Johnston is a veteran educator from Nevada. Proudly in her 18th year with the Clark County School District, Johnston has taught AP Literature and Creative Writing for most her career. Currently in a hybrid role, Johnston teaches and works as an Arts Integration Coordinator at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. In addition to teaching, Johnston is a fellow of the Southern Nevada ...

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