On February 14th, 2018, the most deadly mass shooting in an American high school happened in the county adjacent to mine, at a school that kids I'd worked with attended and that I'd visited before. This is how my current students & I spent The Day After.
8:15am - I walk across campus to pick up my darlings (who are here to rehearse) from the front of the school. I see one of our before-school teachers talking to a student who has special needs, and the student is talking very loudly. The teacher is incredibly patient with him, and tells him calmly, "There's no need to yell at me, right?" The student apologizes and continues talking about how he doesn't want to eat in the cafeteria today. I see her and she tells me he's afraid because his family allowed him to watch too much news coverage last night. I offered a hug. The teacher will probably continue to talk to this kid face to face for another hour while also supervising the kids in the computer lab.
When I meet my kids at the front gate of the school, they're sad. They're depressed. They know, right away. At my last school, when Sandy Hook happened, none of my students knew or said anything about it. I had a smartphone then. I didn't know what had happened until my mother texted me, after that school day had ended. Maybe it was a geographical proximity. Maybe not.
9:15am - My first period dribs & drabs in, less enthusiastic than usual, and I overhear a lot of kids say, "Well, it's in Broward, we don't have to be worried here." Much like any major recent event, although students have seemingly unfettered access to technology & media, it rarely means they have accurate information. I try to make sure they have accurate information, and I also try to make sure that they know our process for when we have a Code Red lockdown. Luckily in my room, we have several built-in practice rooms, and at least one to accommodate all of my (relatively small) classes.
10:15am - My Chorus has decided they want to continue to rehearse in the ensemble room, as they feel safe & comfortable in there. So they're warming up and I'm taking a few minutes to unpack some of the bevy of instruments we received (with a ridiculously fast turnaround!) from Little Kids Rock, just the day before. It was a really happy moment when my sixth period kids & Rock Band faithfuls got to pick up the gigantic boxes yesterday and then we began to open them at the end of class/the school day. After that, they went home and talked to their parents about what had happened 45 minutes southeast of us.
11:15am - My kids have a lot of questions today, and usually I ask them to wait until I am done speaking to ask. (Because, y'know, I might already be answering their questions with what I have to say.) And let's be honest, there are some times kids ask questions they already know the answer to just for the sake of being disruptive. But I'm answering all of my kids questions today, as they're certainly asking them.
One of my classroom rules is, "One person speaks at a time." I explain to them that we do this so that everyone can be heard. While I'm explaining the lockdown procedure, I make sure every question is answered and they don't have a hard time understanding the concept of "one at a time" today.
12:15pm - I have one kid in one of my beginning band classes who is making up multiple scenarios of how we can weaponize the instruments in our Ensemble room in order to fight off a potential assailant. That concept is fun for them because they like action movies & video games, and I get it. I'm not sure they quite understand what happened yesterday. Part of me doesn't want them to.
Of all the things I will teach my students, a considerable deal of it non-musical, I hope one day they will no longer need and forget what they learned today.
1:15pm - I'm on my lunch/planning hour, reading things on social media: they've identified all of the victims, MSD won't open up until next week, Jazz MPA and Solo & Ensemble have been postponed or cancelled, seeing as Stoneman Douglas was to host these band events this weekend for District 15. My friends who still teach in Broward are telling me that there have been unexplained lockdowns at various high schools across the county all day. At some point I need to leave my freezing cold classroom and take a walk.
2:15pm - I very strongly believe in procedure and protocol in my room. It's not that I don't want to be creative -- we did a creative assignment just yesterday, that didn't involve playing our instruments -- it's that with all of the equipment we have, it's important to take care of our stuff and each other. If I need to make them retrace their steps and retrain expectations so that class runs smoothly, I'll do it. Some kids really space out when you ask them to follow directions, not making the connection between the following of directions every day and the following of directions during an emergency. I compare it to practice & performance: you can't perform something you haven't adequately practiced. "How many of you have messed something up in a performance, even though you've practiced it, because you were nervous?" Just about every hand in the room goes up, and those are just the ones who are being honest.
I believe very strongly in my room being a Safe Space. But Safe Spaces have to be defended.
3:15pm - To attempt an explanation all of this, I show my students a Google Maps route from our school to Stoneman Douglas. It takes about 45 minutes, between I-95 and the 869, to get there. Red roads show that there is still a great deal of traffic leading up to Stoneman Douglas. It seems far away to my students, some of whose parents do not have reliable transportation. I tell them that Parkland is wealthier than the wealthiest suburb they know in our county, and they're shocked. Then I scroll out on Google Maps, and I show them that when we look at a larger scale map, it looks like we're right next to Parkland. I've been showing this map all day.
I don't necessarily Talk Politics in my room, as I've been somewhat chastised for that in the past, but I make a flippant comment about arming teachers.
"A gun? They want to give me a gun?! Have they seen how often I misplace my keys!?"
A bright student responds, "Free Gatorade coupon for anyone who finds Mrs. Langerholc's gun!"
We legitimately rehearse, and it's not an amazing rehearsal despite our assessment concert coming up, so part of me is hoping that today the kids are just distracted, much like I am. Part of me thinks I need to re-prioritize.
4:15pm - As I've been distracted all day, I find myself scrambling to complete an important piece of school paperwork before a deadline and clock in before my Rock Band kids arrive. This is not particularly unusual.
5:15pm - My Rock Band kids have spent the entire afternoon session completing the unboxing process with all of the new equipment we got. The whole hour & 15 minutes is essentially just a bunch of kids, running around the room in squeals of joy, plugging things in and tuning other things. They are in a rapturous state.
And then we get the PA and one of the new microphones working. It's karaoke time.
As they start to clean up and leave, they depart with cheerful chatter. More than that, they leave with more gratitude than I can manage. "I am so grateful for all of this stuff. I can't even believe it's all here." "Thank you Mrs. Langerholc, I love you Mrs. Langerholc!" They have no clue, as they walk out, determining new instrumentally-based nicknames for each other, how grateful I am for all of them.
6:15pm - It's a bad thing to do, but I blow off my therapy appointment. I adore my therapist, but I also am craving time with my family. I go to Publix to pick up subs for dinner and my therapist calls, leaving a message that I'm late, and I call her receptionist back, explaining that I'm fine and I got stuck at work. That statement is at least two-thirds true. I probably owe a co-pay for my missed appointment, but those are (luckily) not too high and it's worth it tonight.
7:15pm - My daughter is in the transition phase between being a human toddler and an all-consuming force of nature, and for whatever reason, is particularly bonkers tonight, so she requires all of my attention.
8:15pm - She's still requiring all of my attention, and we're a little late getting her to bed tonight and making sure she is not wearing her precious "beads" to bed.
I do overhear my mother, who is notoriously cynical, say that this time, with this shooting, the tides seem to be turning. Something is going to change. I somehow convince my two-year-old to put on her pajama bottoms and I use high-level parent psychology to lead her to brushing her teeth and I hope to God my mother is right.
9:15pm - I am reading more stories, doing my due diligence to disseminate what's real from what's trying to get clicks. It's not clear to me or even my Broward teacher friends what exactly happened during the school day today, whether lockdowns were a response to a threat at another Broward school or what was going on, if any viable threat at all. But they are beyond stressed. Old co-workers are finding out that a former student's father was among those killed. Tributes are pouring in from other music educators, now that we know that two freshman members of the Eagle Regiment, a baritone player and a colorguard member, both freshmen, were among those killed.
Like many recent days, I don't remember falling asleep on The Day After. I am grateful to have woken up for a planning day and that our students had a day off today. We had lost all of our previous planning/professional development days to Hurricane Irma make-ups. As teachers, more than we needed a day in our classrooms or a day of learning how to meet our students' needs, we needed a day to talk to each other. Even if we vehemently disagreed with one another, as I did with some things I overheard on The Day After The Day After, I was grateful to talk to other teachers.
There will be many Days After The Day After. At least, we hope. We will have to contend with what we are offered. In public schools, we don't get to choose who we teach -- we take in the huddled masses, yearning for freedom. Sometimes, we get kids who are beyond our reach, and they turn on us. We don't always get it right, but we do our best, as teachers, not only to inform and shape our kids but to protect them. Sometimes, we are alleviated of that responsibility, and we no longer have the capacity to protect them. But we will never stop trying.
We can only hope that our Days After are filled with love, kindness, and patience. But if we are to continue to have Days After, we as a country will need to match that love & kindness with policy & legislation.