My first job out of college was as a full-time substitute teacher at Wilkinsburg Junior/Senior High School. A week into my time there, the ninth-grade English teacher unexpectedly quit, and I took over that classroom for the reminder of the year.
I have myriad takeaways and memories from that six-month stretch and the rest of the three years I spent there, but the most surprising (to me, at least) was how vital school was for kids in that community. And when I speak of school in this context, I’m not talking about what happens in the classrooms but, instead, about all the functions of a working schoolhouse.
Wilkinsburg was one of the poorest and most violent municipalities in Pennsylvania, and for many of the kids there, the school was a respite from that. It’s where they knew they’d be warm. It’s where they knew they’d get two hot meals. It’s where they knew they’d have structure and routine, even if some of them fought against it. It’s where they knew they’d be (relatively) safe for eight hours a day.
An hour ago, I was sitting in a bar near my house, eating chicken wings and reading and editing a chapter from my book. I choose bars to work in sometimes because the background noise from busy public spaces helps me focus. I took a break from my screen to glance up and give my eyes a chance to breathe, and the TV behind the bar flashed that 17 people were killed in that school shooting in Parkland, Fla., today.
And now I’m back home, because I saw that and I started crying and I just didn’t want to stay there any longer.
Fuck this shit, man.