Anxious students about to embark on their teaching careers might be even more worried about life in the classroom after the recent shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
But after surviving last week’s attack that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teacher Katherine Posada wanted to ease the fears of education students at her alma mater, Indiana University.
On Friday morning, she spoke to an auditorium of about 200 people in Bloomington about huddling with her 22 students while the school was on lockdown.
Posada acknowledged hard truths: that teachers can do their best to help struggling students, but there will be some — like alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from the school — who they won’t be able to save.
But her clear passion for teaching, and her hope for change for safer schools, rang through.
“Please don’t let this type of event discourage you or make you be afraid to become a teacher,” Posada said. “Because in this world, it is more important now than it ever has been to be able to give these messages to our students, and to be able to prepare them for the world they’re about to go into.”
Here are some excerpts from Posada’s talk:
On why she thinks arming teachers is a “terrible idea”:
“Teaching is about relationships, and it’s about respect. And if I am armed, and I have a weapon, my students no longer respect me. They respect my weapon. They fear my weapon. And I become a threat to them, or a potential threat to them.”
Posada said she supports safety measures such as requiring students to wear IDs and limiting access to schools by keeping entrances locked. But she said she believes it could have been dangerous for her to have a gun on the day of the shooting, particularly when law enforcement cleared the building.
“The first thing that we saw was the barrel of a rifle pointed at us,” she said. “I understand that they had to assess whether or not there was a threat in the room, but they’re pointing guns at us, and they’re shouting, and they’re saying, ‘Hands up! Get in the middle of the room!’
“If I’d had a gun at that moment, they would have shot me. Because they’re there to assess a threat. They’re not there to say, ‘Hmm, this person looks like a mild-mannered 10th-grade teacher who’s not a threat to me.’ … I don’t ever want them to wonder if I’m a threat to them.”
On Parkland students’ gun-control activism after the shooting:
“They are articulate and inspiring and educated. And they didn’t get there by accident.
“They got there because of people like you in this room. Because of their teachers. Because of people who have taught them to think critically about important issues. Because of people who have taught them how to formulate their words and given them the opportunity to practice those things, and educators who have told them they can change the world.”
On how teachers can prepare for school shootings:
“Many of you are wondering if you will ever be able to be prepared for a situation like a school shooting. Yes, you can be logistically prepared. You will do trainings, and you will do the drills, and you will talk to students, and you will know exactly what to do in those situations. But I will tell you, you can never be emotionally prepared for what that is like.”
But Posada said even if you’re in shock, your instincts will kick in.
“You do what you have to do to protect your kids. And that’s what they are: Every student who comes into your classroom, as an educator, is your kid. You form relationships with them, and you’ll do whatever it takes to protect them. You’ll know what to do.”
On what she really teaches in her 10th-grade English class:
“Empathy and the ability to relate to other people.
“Any time you pick up a book, you are putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You are looking at the world from someone else’s perspective for that 300 pages, or whatever it is that you’re reading. That’s such an important thing to be able to do in this world where we are so polarized. It’s so ‘us versus them.’ ‘If you don’t agree with what I say, you must be a terrible, horrible person.’ I think we get caught up in that way of thinking far too often. … It’s OK to disagree with each other, you just have to do so respectfully.”
Posada said she teaches students to think critically by articulating their own arguments — and understanding other perspectives.
“I really try not to let my own personal views come across in the classroom. It’s not my job as an educator to tell my students what to think. It’s my job to teach them how to think for themselves.”
On how she plans to go back to school after the shooting:
“In many ways, I don’t think it will ever be the same.”
Posada expects students’ first days back will be devoted to talking about the shooting.
“I was in the middle of reading Macbeth when we left. How am I going to do that? How am I going to go back and read Macbeth to them at this point? Would anybody care? I don’t think so.”
She said she may shift her lesson plans to be more meaningful, to include a project for students to research and present on issues they feel passionately about.
“I don’t know that we’ll go back to Macbeth. I am going to teach the standards, maybe in just a little bit of a different way. .. I think it would be a disservice to the students to jump back into, let’s do some SAT prep.”
On being “more than just a deliverer of curriculum”:
“I feel like I’m their mom sometimes. I feel like I’m their parent. I think sometimes they’d rather I didn’t feel that way, because I expect a lot of my students, and sometimes I call them on stuff that they’d rather you let slide. … Some of them need an adult who can be a role model, or who can be someone they can talk to, because they don’t have that anywhere else. You feel like a therapist sometimes. So yeah, you’re definitely more than just a deliverer of curriculum. That would be easier, probably, less stressful, but you’re more than that.”
Her relationship with her students, Posada said, helps her see red flags in their behavior, in their writing, or from other students, in cases in which students may need counseling.
“Unfortunately, we can’t catch every single incident,” she said. “But you do the best you can.”
On whether there is “room in our hearts to love kids like Nikolas,” the alleged shooter:
“I think that the answer to things like this is more love, more understanding. More willingness to accept other people and their points of view and the way they might feel and the way they might think and to be open to everyone expressing themselves. So I think there’s room. It might take us awhile to get there, but I definitely think it’s possible.”