Going into teaching, I knew there would be a variety of different responsibilities to bear, but this one was unimaginable: Nothing, I repeat nothing, compares to being told one of your students has been murdered, it doesn’t matter if it was the first one or the 7th one.
I have been teaching in Baltimore City for five years now, and every single time I get that announcement, it makes me reflect on my purpose as an educator. I am in the business of saving and protecting kids, and when I can’t, it feels like a failure. I then have to stand in front of four sets of 30 kids daily and continue to try to get through the lesson, all while looking around thinking about which one will be next.
This is reality for my students. This is their normal: People get shot and murdered daily, candlelight vigils, funerals, drugs and poverty. It is a vicious cycle on repeat. At the age of 14, these kids know more people who have died than I do in my 29 years of life; some have even seen people be murdered.
The week continues. Two days after learning of a student’s death, a former student is murdered, then a student from another school is stabbed. The cycle continues. Wake up people: This should be no one’s reality in the United States of America. This is stuff you hear about in developing countries.
People on the outside of Baltimore City judge. Some of my family, some of my friends, random people who ask where I work — they cannot understand why I love teaching here. They see only a negative picture, none of the good in the city. They don’t understand that the students I teach every day are desperate to escape the violence and drugs. They don’t see all of the possibility that lies within my classroom. I teach students with huge hearts who are full of talent. If my students were not judged on where they come from, but on their ability and potential, we would have a much different world.
Setting long-term goals is really hard for many of my students because they don’t see a future. They don’t know whether they will live or not. Sadly, this a reality that some of them don’t make it to 18 years old. It is hard to see a future when the only thing you are trying to do is survive.
We need to do better as a city. We need to reflect and show these kids that we care and that their lives matter. We need to add recreation centers and after school programs and keep schools that are safe havens in the communities, not take them away. We need to have buildings that have heat and aren’t infested with rodents. I don’t understand how we close down restaurants and markets due to infestations, but it is OK in schools. What do we do to show these kids we value them?
Teachers and administrators can only show the students that we care and support them, but that isn’t enough when society constantly contradicts our message, telling these kids they are worthless.
I am sick of looking around in my classroom thinking about what student could be murdered next and praying it doesn’t happen. I am sick of my daily closing routine — a necessary normal. I tell my students to have a good day or weekend and be safe. I am constantly worried about their safety. I do not want them to become just another statistic.
When is enough, enough? The violence needs to end, too many young people are dying before they even had the chance to live.
Shannon Furdak (SMFurdak@bcps.k12.md.us) is a health teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools.