‘Breathe” we tell ourselves as we drive to our teaching jobs full of fear and heartache once again over yet another mass shooting. “Breathe” we tell ourselves as we watch fellow teachers walking into school with heavy hearts knowing they need to pretend all is well yet again in order to support their students.

“Breathe“ was the advice for a first year teacher who sat in tears wondering how she will pull herself together today so she can support her students. Veteran teachers are going about their day after another tragic school shooting, wondering if they have missed mental health clues from their students and done enough to support all students, but class is starting. Breathe …

We are writing on behalf of a group of educators from RSU 5, the school district for Durham, Freeport and Pownal. We can no longer breathe this away. We have so many emotions running through our bodies, anger, frustration, deep sadness and helplessness. As civil servants we worry about sharing opinions publicly. Teachers hesitate to share how it feels each morning as we unlock the classroom door, double checking that it is locked in case of an intruder. Teachers never share how it feels to practice active shooter drills with a class, asking our students to crouch in the corner while reading to them hoping to “normalize” a code red drill.

We don’t hear from teachers who have sat with a child, trying to soothe and comfort them, ensuring that they are safe, when the teacher is not sure themselves. Teachers do not share how difficult it is to work with families who can not find therapists and resources for their children. We don’t hear how teachers feel when politicians think the solution is to arm educators. What has gone wrong with our society that arming educators is even an option?

We don’t hear teachers sharing how angry we are that politicians are not making adjustments to our gun policy to allow background checks and limit the sale of semi-automatic weapons. Teachers watch politicians getting huge donations from the NRA and other organizations that blindly support gun rights while doing nothing to protect our children. Teachers do not share how it feels to listen once again to politicians sending condolences while supporting laws that allow an 18-year-old to purchase assault rifles.

What kind of country are we when our elected leaders tell us that the answer to this violence is to “harden” the schools, yet any gun reform is a nonstarter. Are we going to “harden” every supermarket, church and movie theater? How have we become a country that cares more about an individual’s gun rights than protecting the people?

It is time that people hear from the teachers who are on the front lines with the children. We want to be very clear that teachers are heartbroken for every child who has been murdered, we are afraid for our own school community’s safety, we are exhausted by the senseless acts of violence, and we are angry. There have been 27 school shootings this year alone. Horrifically, at the time of this writing, there have been an additional 18 mass shootings in the U.S. since the Uvalde murders. How do you hear this and not take action? Teachers will be in school tomorrow, they will set aside their personal emotions around these tragedies, and they will do what is right for the children. When will our elected officials do what is right for the children?

For now, all we can do is breathe …

— Special to the Telegram

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