Teacher: Err on the side of school safety

It’s terrible what happened to Ahmed Mohamed, the ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, who made a clock and was arrested because his teacher thought it resembled a bomb. He seems like a very nice, very intelligent, regular kid.

At the same time, I think about myself while at school. I teach at Macomb Community College. Almost constantly, while walking down the hall, I’m thinking about what room I’m going to dive into if I here the “pop” “pop” “pop” of gunfire. My classroom door is always locked, and I leave my office door locked.

I think about where my students are going to hide. I think about turning out the lights in the room. I think about calling campus police. And I think about what to do if a gunman comes through the door. I think about this every day and I think about it almost constantly every day. In the middle of lectures, I look toward my classroom door and imagine a student clad in all black with a long coat coming through the door and firing upon us.

I’ve mentally rehearsed this scenario so many times, it’s almost as if I’ve lived it. When my office hours or classes are over, I leave campus. I don’t stay any longer than I have to. When I see someone walking down the hall I’ve never seen, I wonder why they are in our building.

That’s the environment we work in as educators. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe my dad having been a cop for 25 years has somehow created an innate over-alertness in me.

When I think about what this boy went through it saddens me. I have a ninth-grade son and I would be furious if this happened to him. But I think I know what the teachers and administrators were thinking, too. They weren’t going to wait to see if he made an innocent clock in a suitcase or if a bomb was about to detonate in their school. Can you imagine the headlines? “Boy shows teachers homemade bomb before detonation; killing, injuring hundreds.”

We close entire airport terminals and delay hundreds or thousands of travelers when someone leaves a backpack in a bathroom. And as I said, this boy seems so smart. Do you think he possibly knew the stir this was going to cause? Do you think he and his parents should have known the stir his clock was going to cause? Do you think it’s a bad idea to allow your kid to bring a clock built into a metal briefcase to school? Do you think he’d get through a TSA checkpoint with that clock without being questioned or detained or arrested?

Racism is a terrible thing. But so are school shootings, school bombings and the deaths of innocent children and teachers. This may not have happened if the kid was a white, Christian boy named Bobby Smith. But it may have happened exactly the same way. This may not have happened if there was a specific assignment to build a clock into a metal briefcase. But that’s not what happened.

This kid just showed up at school with a metal briefcase with a digital clock built into it. The teachers and administrators may have believed they were preventing the deaths of and injuries to countless students and staff by calling the police. If a student at my son’s school brings a water gun to school that he’s modified to look like a real gun, I hope his teachers and administrators call the police and not wait to see if it’s a real gun or not; even if my son is the student stupid enough to bring the modified water gun to school.

I hope this incident in Irving, Texas, doesn’t change the vigilance of any teacher or school administrator in this country.

Bill Soule, Rochester