You read the news: another school shooting. This time in Michigan. Students and teachers in most schools have drills to practice defense against a shooter, in this case, a sophomore in the high school. Why did he have a gun? Why did he shoot? What will the country do to prevent future school shootings? Will we ever have gun control? After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and countless other such massacres, we know the answer. It’s not the answer that one would expect in a civilized country. Next time you hear a politician spouting off about being pro-life, ask him or her how they can be pro-life and pro-gun.

A sixth-grade teacher, Melissa McMullan, shared her reaction to the latest tragedy:

She writes:

Today, I am deeply saddened by the loss of lives, injuries sustained, and emotional trauma that will all reside permanently with those impacted by the actions of a child compelled to bring a gun to school in order to kill. I am also struck by the heroism of teachers.

I find myself thinking about the promise of public education. Education is our society’s most potent weapon. It has the potential to be the great equalizer, eradicating poverty and fostering independence. This drives me to love my students fiercely and continually strive to offer better instruction than the day before. I am not alone. My building and school district are filled to the brim with teachers who pour everything they have into their classrooms every day. We are not alone. Across the country, teachers go into their classrooms every day to give their students everything they have. And then some.

But we are suffering. Our students are suffering. We are asked to keep our students seated three feet apart, make sure they are wearing masks, monitor mask breaks, teach outside, make sure we are simultaneously offering virtual instruction to students who cannot come to school, manage the continual flood of absences and find ways to keep our instruction moving forward. We counsel students, their families, and our colleagues about the uncertainties of living through a pandemic that no one has a handle on. How our students learn, and what they need from us have vastly changed. Yet, as always, we are asked to comply with an antiquated (and irrelevant) teacher evaluation system.

What happened on Tuesday, at a school outside of Detroit, is a sickening reminder of what matters. People sent their children to school and three will never come home. Some were injured, and the scars from those injuries will never leave them. While many others, albeit physically unscathed, will never get over the trauma of having the safety of their school violated in such a manner. And a child had access to a gun, knew how to use it, and used it to injure and kill students and teachers in his school community.

What struck me is that teachers, as always, stepped in and did exactly what they needed to do to protect their students. I am in awe reading about the teacher who heard gunshots and quickly responded. The teacher was able to get all of the students in the room, lock and barricade the door with desks, and ask students to arm themselves with objects to throw should the door be breached. Ultimately the teacher had the students jump out the window for safety.

I am left wondering how many more responsibilities can we give teachers? How long will our leaders ignore the overwhelming list of responsibilities that have been added to our plates, while continuing to evaluate us based upon metrics that have no relevance? We have to ask ourselves:

What do our nation’s children need from public education?

How do we support teachers in meeting our children’s needs?

Our current metrics are not only costing valuable time, energy, and resources, but they are part of a system that is failing teachers and the students they love. What took place in Michigan is not the canary in the coal mine, it’s the mushroom cloud. We need leaders to stand up now.

Melissa McMullan, PhD, 6th Grade Teacher

John F. Kennedy Middle School

Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776