A handgun in my classroom…

In October 1975, I began my teaching of high school English in my own classroom, with my own students.  It was a dream-come-true for me.  I had graduated from college with a degree in Education in June 1974, volunteered in this particular school by day (as a tutor) while cocktail waitressing at night, and done some substitute teaching in the same school.

My first day of teaching just happened to be my birthday.  It was the most special birthday gift ever.

I created bulletin boards, arranged the desks and bookcases just so, supplied my desk with every “teacher” thing possible… and set about my dream.  I felt prepared.  I felt ready.  I called upon my college classes and preparation, my student teaching, tutoring and substitute teaching experiences to motivate my students, engage my students, monitor any behavior situations as they arose and help my students reach the stars.

But what I could never have been prepared for, what no college classes, student teaching, tutoring or substitute teaching prepared me for, was a handgun in my classroom during my second week of teaching.  It all happened so quickly, but it’s an image and incident that I will never, ever, ever forget.

I was writing on the blackboard.  I heard some unusual-sounding whispering behind me… and then the unusual silence of high school kids. I turned around to see a student in one of the first rows.  He looked at me quickly.  He looked down at his desk.  His jacket was spread across it.  I saw the hand and arm of another student, in an adjacent row, quickly pull back from whatever was under that jacket.

I honestly don’t remember thinking.  I just remember walking to that desk, silence enveloping that classroom and the world.  I pulled back the jacket.  There was a handgun on the desk.

The student at the desk began a litany of reasons why he had that gun.  I don’t remember one reason.

I had never, in my entire life, seen a gun close-up.  I had never touched a gun.  I had never held a gun.

I reached to cradle the gun in my hands.  I knew I had to get that gun.  Quickly.

The student with the gun and the excuses continued with his fast-talking runaway train of why he had the gun and why I could not take it.

I picked up the gun.  I walked backwards, away from his desk.  I told another student to immediately go to the principal’s office and get him here.

The student with the gun became irate.  Angry.  Telling me I had no right to take the gun.  The principal was there in moments.

The principal took the gun from my hands.  He took the student from my class. The gun had taken the breath from my lungs and the beat from my heart.  I resumed my lesson.

I resumed my lesson.  I didn’t know what else to do.  The rest of the class sat in stilled silence.

The gun was registered.  The gun was stolen.  The student would be expelled from school.  He would never return.

I would teach high school English and Reading for decades, in that same school.  I would never again face a student with a gun.  I would never again hold a gun.  I would never forget the fear, the unknown, the fast moments as they took my very breath away.

I would live my dream-come-true of teaching.  I would live my dream for nearly 30 years with hundreds of wonderful, wonderful students.

I cannot get out of my head those at Sandy Hook Elementary School who would not live… those innocent little lives and those innocent teachers and staff members who would not live.

My sorrow is so deep.  My sorrow is so, so, so deep.






A handgun in my classroom… was last modified: December 17th, 2012 by Sharon Couto
SHOWHIDE Comments (9)
  1. Wow…I cannot even imagine the experience. Your instincts took hold and the way you handle the situation would be textbook (if they had textbooks on these things, which maybe they do now). Thank you for sharing this. It shows why something needs to be done about guns.

  2. OMG. I can not believe this happened to you – and on your 2nd week of teaching none the less…. as always you handled yourself with grace under pressure. Crazy. Your quick thinking saved the day for sure. xo

  3. I cannot even imagine how scared you must have been. I guess in situations like that, instinct takes over. I’m so happy that your instinct was right and everything was okay. I love you, my sweet friend. xo

  4. Oh Sharon, how scary. But it also illustrates that most of the time, the right people become teachers and take care of our kids. Despite your fear, you acted, and probably saved somebody. If not somebody in your class that day, then surely someone, sometime, in the future.

  5. Oh, wow, Sharon. On your second week, in your classroom. How life changing that moment must have been for you.

    You’re one of the heroes.

    I also think it’s so helpful (while disturbing) to us all to note that this happened in 1975. That’s 37 years ago. That’s a long time to be a handgun problem in schools.

  6. Bern… I was teaching in the Occupational Program that first year… remember Room 130, way up on the 3rd floor with all those red rugs!? It was intended as a science classroom, but somehow became the classroom for the Occupational kids. Thank goodness the main office was, literally, a staircase away. I always remember those frightening moments when there’s such a firearm tragedy… but store it in some recess of my mind. Otherwise, I could never have returned. You know, dear friend and the best teacher I’ve ever known… better than anyone… what could have happened on any given day… xo -Sharon

  7. That’s a scary experience and I’m glad everything turned out ok. Sometimes people get hurt unintentionally trying to do what’s right. I pity the fool who thinks it’s okay to bring weapons to school. It’s not just others that they are putting in danger. They too run the risk of being hurt. None of them ever have any real sense. It’s sad.

    I’ll be posting this week from the perspective of the kids who have lost their friends to gun violence. Between 12 and 15, I lost three.

    I am not a fan of guns being in the wrong hands.

A handgun in my classroom… was last modified: December 17th, 2012 by Sharon Couto