Anxieties about gun violence from a future teacher and journalist

In May, after yet another school shooting this year, I talked to people about what my next year looks like — a Master’s program that includes a year of student teaching — and said, “I am a little worried that could happen in my school.”

No one laughed it off or told me not to worry about that. They nodded somberly at the reality of this anxiety.

This should not be the way anyone pursuing a career should feel about getting experience or going into work. It should be unacceptable to this country that the mass slaughter of innocents has become somewhat of a regular notion.

I recently graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in multiplatform journalism and English. I plan to go in to journalism for a while, exercising the passion for editing and reporting that I’ve been building since high school. For my Master’s of Education, I’m going to be student teaching English at a high school in Montgomery County, Maryland. I’m nervous and excited to get my first classroom experience. But I know in the back of my head I’ll be constantly thinking that at any moment, my students and I could become a target.

We could find ourselves in one of the unthinkable situations that has been described countless times this year. I want to be a teacher because I want to impact people’s lives and help shape young minds. I don’t want to anticipate throwing myself in front of bullets.

Until recently, I reassured myself with the fact that I won’t teach until later in life — and hopefully by then things would be different. In my plans, my career in journalism precedes the teaching portion. I don’t want to be a crime or war reporter, so I felt quite confident in terms of safety as a journalist. That’s no longer a consolation to me.

On Thursday, June 28, a man with a grudge against The Capital Gazette allegedly opened fire toward the journalists in its newsroom. Five people died — three of them connected to my own journalism community at the University of Maryland. I know people who work at The Capital and The Baltimore Sun. Not only did this shooting hit close to home, it struck a chord with me as a journalist.

Journalists work tirelessly every day to tell the stories, big and small, that matter to their communities. They shed light on issues or teach their audiences something new. This society could not function without journalism. Democracy could not function without the free press. I have been inspired by the strength and resolve of the journalists at The Capital who produced a heartbreaking newspaper about the loss of their colleagues in the face of tragedy.

In the last couple years, my peers, professors, and I have had constant discussions about the incendiary language surrounding the press. How everything is considered “fake news.” How some have been calling us “the enemy of the people.” And how, despite all that (or maybe even because of it), our job is now more important than ever.

Now, I worry that a similar tragedy could befall me as I sit in an office writing or editing. When journalists are being targeted for simply doing their jobs, it’s hard not to think of the risks. But do I just give up and retreat into a different career path? No. I am proud to be a journalist and believe in the importance of the press. The same goes for teaching. Schools have been a constant target for mass shooters for years. But will I let that deter me from teaching the literature I love to classrooms full of students? No.

It’s absurd that I need to be anxious about this, and it’s absurd that as a graduate student this issue will already be thrust to the forefront of my mind because of a teaching internship. It’s also unacceptable that anyone should feel unsafe in a work or school environment.

In March, I covered the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and spent the day surrounded by the rhetoric of angry, hopeful people. I had never been to such an intense event before. Emotions were high, people could hardly move for how crowded it was, and everyone there seemed to listen intently to the speakers’ messages. There, I saw several teachers protesting with signs that said things like “STUDENTS SHOULD FEAR MY QUIZZES, NOT GUNS” and “I teach because I love literature not lockdowns.” I was there as a journalist, and the high energy resonated with me, yet as a future teacher I also felt the frustration of those protestors whose jobs encompass so much more than teaching formulas or prose.

The March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2018. Photos by Jacqueline Hyman.

What do I do when both of my career choices might put me in danger?

One part of me says it will never happen to me, it wouldn’t happen here. But the other part of me knows those thoughts could be misleading. It can happen anywhere; a fact that registered with me even deeper after Thursday’s shooting in my state’s capital. We need change. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace. I don’t know how many more incidents it will take to change viewpoints and laws that will make us safer. I do know that fear can’t keep me from pursuing my passions.