Every day at recess, as my fourth grade students bound and yelp and swing and play, I grip a walkie talkie set to our school's emergency channel, hold my breath, and think, There's nothing I could do.
And yet, I scan everywhere, watching the rise behind where the boys play three-on-three touch football, watching the staircase sloping down to the pulsing swing set, watching the open field leading to a main thoroughfare for someone, anyone, to appear on the horizon.
I'm always watching. It never stops. This fear that someone may murder my children - someone with a weapon built for war, constructed to cut down a life effortlessly, without pause.
I'm always watching because, in America, I must.
I'm always watching not because I am overly neurotic, or unreasonably skittish. I'm always watching because these shootings happen every year (62 in the last 30 years), and are increasing. I'm always watching because the vast majority of these shootings are carried out by a lone person who has legally obtained an assault rifle or semi-automatic firearm. I'm always watching because, as an American teacher, it's become one of my central responsibilities: not just to teach my students, but to protect them from those who may want to kill them.
Perhaps this is due somewhat to the fact that I teach at a Jewish school, a place I fear could be a target. Perhaps it's due to my past, traumatic experience with those who have tried to kill the people closest to me, the people I love.
Then again, perhaps it's due to the fact that America, under the influence of the NRA and the gun lobby in general, has become one of the most violent countries in the world, using the Second Amendment as cover for Americans - civilians - to have a Constitutional right to military-grade weapons.
But this isn't a Constitutional issue. It is a money issue. And because of the NRA's monetary might, its ability to purchase politicians, its ability to influence public discourse, 20 students in Connecticut are dead. Not because Americans have the right to own guns, a right I support. But because American citizens have the right to own guns meant for the slopes of Afghanistan or the training fields of Fort Bragg.
Which is why, every morning when I arrive at school, I lock my already-unlocked classroom door, testing to make sure the key works, the lock works, before unlocking it again and preparing for the morning.
I do this in case it must be locked. Quickly. Locked to keep out someone with a weapon no civilian should legally have access to or own. Locked to save the children I love from those terrors which are increasingly encroaching upon our normative lives.
This is the burden of teaching today. A burden I carry heavily.