Thursday, February 11, 2010

They're Gunning for Me

Yesterday, at Inskip Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee, shortly after school had let out early due to snow, a man shot the Principal and Assistant Principal.  One is in critical condition, the other in stable condition.  The man arrested is a 4th grade teacher at the school.  Details are starting to come out about this guy's career.  His contract was not going to be renewed next year.  His brother had a restraining order against him.  The police have a thick file of complaints that he's filed about others and that they've filed against him.  This does not appear to be a stable person.  On the other hand, he also briefly held public office when he served on a local Beer Board. 

You've often heard me write about how traumatic events interfere with our ability to distinguish what is likely from what is possible.  That certainly was the case for me when I read this story.  If you had asked me yesterday morning whether it was possible a disgruntled teacher would shoot me in my office, I would have said that I hadn't thought about it, but anything is possible. 

When I read about this shooting, however, I immediately felt unsafe.  I have made teachers unhappy and not renewed contracts.  I know there are people out there who hate me for it.  Before yesterday, I had never imagined that they could possibly come after me physically.  Now I know.

On the other hand, I know perfectly kind, decent people who have not been renewed for one reason or another.  I myself left my first teaching job under a cloud.  None of these people would possibly shoot their administrators.

What's hard to remember is that, in fact, I'm no more or less likely to be assaulted at work today than I was last week.  The risk to me, or to any other administrator in the country, has not actually changed.  What has changed is that we're aware of the possibility.  We've had a reason to contemplate a risk that we had no reason to even recognize before.  It's possible that I, and other administrators like me, under-estimated the overall danger of our jobs before yesterday, and that this incident will cause us to be more realistic.  It's much more likely, however, that our original estimates were pretty good to begin with, and this incident has caused a very unlikely thing to seem much more likely. 

In another few days this story will have passed from the news.  It won't seem so prominent in my consciousness.  I'll probably go back to feeling just as safe as I did before.  In the meantime, there are perfectly good and typical reasons why I'm feeling a little more cautious at work today.  As long as I'm able to work and the fear doesn't stick around for too long, I know I'm probably OK.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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