A piece of my classroom key broke off in my closet’s metal lock last week. My colleague across the hall came over with her nail clippers and pulled out the flat, broken piece from where it sat stuck inside the lock.

This happened during the afternoon rush; just as I was flying out of my school building to pick up my two little ones at their school. I had completely forgotten about the whole incident until later that night, when I opened my eyes in bed, startled.

My key, I thought, is broken. My classroom key is broken. I won’t be able to lock my door in the case of an emergency.

And here we are. Another day in America. 

Because every day, we send our kids off to these places called schools, which are supposed to keep them safe. And we hold our breath as they board orange buses, or walk in small groups with friends, each one turning the corner, disappearing out of sight.

We hold our breath as we drop them off in front of school buildings, peering out of our car windows; we yell things like: Have a great day! Did you finish all your work? Things like: See you tonight and I love you so much!

And then we wait. Counting down each hour, each minute, until we get to see them again, smell their hair, hold them tight, watch them breathe and smile, hear them complain about the mundane. 

Because we know that here, in America, that is no guarantee. Their safe return should not be taken for granted.

As a teacher, I think about the logistics of lockdown, the logistics of an active shooter entering our building. In fact, I think about it all the time. What will I do, exactly, when I know that every second counts? Where will we hide? Do I know where my keys are, right now? And don’t forget to turn off the lights, pull the shades, cover the window on the classroom door. Do not talk, not even a whisper. No sudden movements. But don’t forget to breathe.

Chute Middle School students line Oakton Avenue and demonstrate against gun violence in June 2022. Credit: Richard Cahan

And here in the dark, my students and I, we sit and we wait. We wait for the all clear, the announcement: This drill is over. 

Go about your day, America, for there is nothing to see here. 

When my secretary issued me a new key, I gripped it too tightly in my hand, felt the cold metal imprint into my palm.

Thank you, I told her; and I meant it.

One unlocked door could be the end. Because here, in America, we choose guns. Not our kids.

Simone Larson

Simone Larson

Simone Larson is a third generation teacher. She lives in Skokie-Evanston with her husband and two young children.

Join the Conversation


The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. There is that Cahan photo again of the girl with three arms. Please explain it. Her left hand is holding a book or laptop, while two signs are being held in what appears to be two right arms.

    1. Dick, it looks like someone else is standing immediately behind the student in front. I can see portions of her head and she is wearing a different color jacket.

      Simone, amen. We live in an increasingly sick world, and the fact that it may take the slaughter of hundreds or thousands of people in a single event to jar Republican leaders to act is beyond belief. The students’ blood is indeed on their hands.