Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started just like any other day.
Students sat in classrooms until the fire alarm started blaring, sending students out on what seemed to be a fire drill — the second of the day.
Belmont alumnus and Stoneman Douglas teacher Ray Posada got separated from his class when he realized he’d forgotten to bring his roster with him to the evacuation area, and he needed to go back to the classroom to get his list.
As he walked back, he heard five loud shots. He ducked into a dark teacher-planning room and hid there for about three hours, watching the news on his phone and texting his family to make sure everyone was okay.
“My wife is a teacher there. She teaches English there. My aunt is a teacher there. I have a cousin who is a teacher there, and my sister is a student there. She’s a junior. So to say that Stoneman Douglas is home, quite literally half of my family is there at any given time. So I was scared for them. I was scared for my own kids,” Posada said.
“The first thing that came into my mind when I heard the shots was ‘I’ve got to see my kids.’”
After hours of waiting in the dark, a SWAT team unlocked the door and pointed a large gun in his face before escorting him out of the building, Posada said.
When he saw his wife waiting where pickups would take place, he didn’t think he could ever go back.
“As soon as I hugged her, I told myself that I would never go back to that school, because, for me, teaching was a job. Teaching wasn’t a life. Teaching was something that I did so that I could have time off to spend time with my kids, not something that would ever take me away from them,” he said
But after seeing one of his students at a private vigil for students and teachers, he knew he had to return.
“I looked in his eyes, and I could just tell there were so many questions in his head, behind his eyes,” Posada said. “And I knew that I had to go back to Stoneman Douglas. I never had a choice. I never could’ve not gone back, I just didn’t know it. I never had a choice. This kid was going to drag me back to the school no matter what. And it wasn’t just him, it was all my kids. All 240 of them.”
After his experience, Posada came to Belmont Thursday to talk to students about the importance of education.
“For me, the whole purpose of coming back here was to talk with education students to make sure that they knew that amongst all the problems and all the issues that the education system has, that it’s still worth it.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, many students from Stoneman Douglas have gone public with their stories in an effort to inspire political change, most notably in leading the national March for Our Lives on Saturday.
Though he is proud of his students for standing up for what they believe in, Posada’s message is not a political one.
“There isn’t anything that would take me away from what I do, because what I do has the potential to stop the things that are happening,” he said. “We talk about empathy. We talk about understanding perspective. It’s through that education that we stop this from happening.”
It was this message that stuck out to elementary education major Jessica Molloy, who hadn’t thought much about shootings from an educator’s point of view until the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, she said.
“It starts with the teachers, whether that is your actual teacher with a degree and a licensure, or you’re just a person teaching somebody like, hey, relationships are important, human beings are important,” Molloy said. “And if somebody taught Nikolas Cruz that, then this would have never happened.”
“That’s what I believe.”
But Posada’s message wasn’t only for educators. He encouraged all students to help promote change.
“You need to have an openness, and by going into your day looking for connections, you are more open in general. And I think it’s that openness that is the thing that has to happen first,” Posada said. “When we talk to people who have different opinions and we still are able to value them as people and their opinions as valid and valuable. When you disagree, that’s when we form connections.”
But students aren’t the only ones who need to work on listening, Posada said.
“We need to value teachers by supporting them — listening to them. All these laws that are passed that affect teachers and schools are passed by people who never stepped into a school. They don’t even ask,” Posada said.
But to Posada, this isn’t just a problem with the government, it’s a symptom of a greater problem — that society simply doesn’t value teachers.
“In a lot of cases, people see teachers as babysitters. And they don’t understand the creation that’s happening in our classrooms. I had a parent who said, ‘between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., they’re your problem.’ They’re right. They were my problem. But it should also be their problem, right? So I think we need to value teachers by supporting them — by listening to them.”
With even education students feeling like they aren’t heard, Posada’s talk left Molloy feeling positive about her future as a teacher.
“I came home with an instinct that I’m seen as a teacher and I’m going to be seen, because we’re often overlooked. We are the people that are with the students every single day for most of the day,” said Molloy. “I came out of it inspired by feeling seen and feeling that my job is important, and it’s not just a babysitter.”
Photo courtesy of Belmont’s Office of Communications.