Teacher Voice

When I Set Up My Classroom Now I Only Think About Which Bookshelf Can Stop a Bullet

I’m going there. When I started teaching setting up the room was so much fun. What set-up would benefit learning? Where would the bookshelf and the reading table go? How can I make my room their room where they felt at home and happy to learn. That wonder and fun has been robbed from my profession. Ask a teacher where the heavy bookshelf goes and it is almost the same answer everywhere. By the door. Where does the reading table go? By the door. Anything big and heavy that would stop a bullet goes by the door. Do you get what I am saying? I don’t know a teacher who has not looked at the faces of Sandy Hook and wondered, “What if?” Do I have the courage to be that principal? Will my students be found behind me like those teachers who took their last stand praying to a God who didn’t listen that day? And I wonder why we honor soldiers who have been trained, and armed and supported to fight against guns that people are bringing to school. Flags fly at half-mast for them because they were heroes who stood their ground. I don’t demean them but they were trained to be brave and to have courage. But what of the courage to stand in a room of little kids knowing all that is keeping you safe is a bookshelf and a reading table? In your heart a hope that our leaders will enact laws that will protect our kids, our schools and our teachers from guns that were made to execute vast numbers of people in an instant.

Heavy Stuff by the Door

This fall I am subbing. I’m a guest teacher in a new school or room almost every day. I see the same set-up over and over. Heavy stuff by the door. When I walk into the classroom, I am not thinking about the fun day I am going to have with the students. I am looking around the room to see where I hide the children. I am scoffing at cheap bookshelves with flimsy backing that wouldn’t stop a BB gun. I’m appraising the thickness of the table tops in the room. America, this is not acceptable. You are allowing people who should not have access to guns to purchase weapons of pretty massive destruction. My career with kids who have emotional disturbances has shown me there are some people who should never, ever have access to a gun. We need to think with our heads and not our trigger fingers. And we need to think of Sandy Hook. We need to think of Columbine. We must remember because to forget is putting guns in the hands of people who should not have them. Yesterday marked the anniversary of Sandy Hook. I will always think of those teachers who stood so bravely in front of their students. That is the definition of hero. I mourn for them and I mourn for this country.
Brett Bigham
Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He is the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks, a series of support books for people with autism that give step-by-step directions how to ...

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