Robbinsdale Cooper High School teacher Erin Herberg was a sophomore at ROCORI High School when a 16-year-old boy brought a gun to school and killed two students.
She decided to share her story with students and the Robbinsdale School District in the below statement posted on the district's website.
My name is Erin Herberg and this is my second year teaching in the Robbinsdale District. I spent one year at Armstrong and now I am at Cooper. The news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook me to my core, not just because I am an educator and school shootings are our worst nightmare, but because school shootings hit a little closer to home for me. I was a sophomore at ROCORI High School when a shooting broke out in 2003 and killed two of my classmates.
Every time a school shooting occurs I inevitably relive that day in my head. As I watch the latest news it breaks my heart thinking about the pain the Newtown community will suffer for years to come. Every school shooting, large or small, is devastating to every life that it touches. My life has never been the same since that day and my life continues to change every time I hear of a school shooting. As horrific and unfortunate as those tragic events were at Rocori, it was largely the reason why I wanted to become a teacher. I felt that I could make a difference because of my past. Last year, when Armstrong was put in a Code Red lockdown my 11th grade English students didn’t take it very seriously as they went through the motions of a lockdown. As I stood near my classroom door, shut off the lights, and told students to hide in the corner, it occurred to me the last time I had been in a Code Red was on the day of my high school shooting. Only this time my role had drastically changed. I was now a teacher and these students were my responsibility.
When the Code Red was over, I turned my daily lesson plan into a life lesson and shared my story with my students. I explained why Code Reds are so important, why bullying is wrong, and why fighting is pointless in our schools. Many students could barely form a response to the story as it unfolded, and I know I made an impact that day. Even if my story only stuck with some of them for a short while, I knew that I was teaching them a lesson that thankfully they did not have to learn through firsthand experience. One girl in particular, who was known for solving problems with her fists, came up to me after class and promised me she’d never fight again. That’s when I knew that some of them would remember that story forever. They were enthralled that I had survived such a hellish ordeal, but perhaps the hardest part of that story is explaining to students that on that fateful day in 2003, three of my classmates (the shooter included) left their home for school in the morning, and never came back.
Today, people across the nation will ask difficult questions and some will never get answers. Nearly ten years later, I still search for answers. The one thing I think we should focus on is prevention, in whatever form that may present itself. I think that President Obama hit the nail on the head during his speech at the Sandy Hook Elementary Vigil when he said, “This is our first task: caring for our children…It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how as a society we will be judged.”
Given that I cannot ever lose the realization that bad things can happen anywhere, I try to make it my goal to be proactive in preventing such situations in the future. I realize that as a teacher I have an easier route to reaching out to children because I am privileged to be able to work with them every day. However, I think that all members of a community must come together to examine their roles in helping our children. What are we doing ourselves to prevent these tragedies, to educate our children, and ultimately to protect our future? Because that’s what our children and students are, they are our future.