Catherine Marshall-Smith: Schools, Firearms and Teachers

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The onslaught of mass shootings in schools has forced teachers to learn and teach skills they never imagined. Catherine Marshall-Smith has this Perspective.

I retired from teaching without gun violence and know that my safety is a luxury. So I am surprised by my profound grief over the shooting in Uvalde. My grief is a luxury I couldn’t afford while teaching. War grade weapons and ammunition were and are easy to buy. I could not phone bank, write post cards or call elected officials fast enough to save my students’ lives or my own and I was the only adult in my classroom.

Although I was a nerdy English major sharing my love for reading and writing with children, I forced myself to plan for an outcome I could live with should I survive a shooting. Run, hide, defend is the mantra for survival. The first job was mine, to lock the door from the inside. If I were dead, two student leaders were tasked to lock the doors. I planned to help the smallest students escape through the window. We built barricades with tables and desks. As a last resort, I practiced pulling the fire extinguisher from the wall, slashing it through the air with the hope of knocking a potential shooter unconscious.

The police taught me that stress causes tunnel vision in shooters and reflexively turn to their right. So we built our visual barrier in the left hand corner of the classroom. Students handed out mechanical pencils and card stock where they wrote about their experiences hoping to alleviate their stress, help serve as witnesses, and inform therapy sessions to treat the inevitable trauma.

Imagine, if we spent the time and creativity on reading?


Elected officials are the only ones who can ban automatic weapons, demand rigorous background checks, and empower family and friends with Red Flag Warnings. The gun lobby is waiting for this moment to pass. I won’t look away. I will call those officials until there is change. Maybe this is why I survived in the first place.

With a Perspective, I’m Catherine Marshall-Smith.

Catherine Marshall-Smith taught reading and writing to 6th graders for 20 years. She now lives, hikes and writes in Northern California.