When the fire alarm went off, Sarah Lerner was passing out chocolates to her students after they joked that she was going to ruin Valentine’s Day by giving them a quiz. Lerner was confused by the alarm — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had already held a fire drill that morning. Lerner and her students filed out of their classroom, where they were met by the chaos of a mass shooting in progress. Some of her students ran away and some ran back to her classroom, where Lerner huddled with 15 students for 3 hours before the SWAT team escorted them out.

Lerner’s son, who was in sixth grade at the middle school next door, was texting her that he was scared. While she hid, Lerner sent messages to her husband and mother, telling them that there was an active shooter but she was safe. When she and the students in her class were finally escorted out of the building hours later, Lerner left her desktop computer powered on, with her planner and makeup bag sitting next to it. “It seems so insignificant,” Lerner said. “But I wasn’t even thinking I wouldn’t be back at school the next day. It didn’t click with me.”

Later that week, she had to buy new makeup before going to funerals for the students and colleagues lost in the shooting. But on Valentine’s Day, she says, it hadn’t hit her yet that her world had changed. “I was walking out with my backpack and lunch bag like an idiot in all of this chaos,” she tells Teen Vogue. Lerner and her students were taken to a nearby hotel where other MSD teachers and students were waiting. A fellow teacher came up to Lerner and told her that their student Jamie Guttenberg was missing. Across the room, Joaquin Oliver’s best friend was sobbing. In the bathroom, Lerner saw a teacher whose classroom the shooter entered first. That night, at home, Lerner turned on the television and saw the shooting plastered across cable news. That, she says, is when it hit her. “You have this holy shit moment,” Lerner said. “Like this really just happened to us.”

This is Lerner’s 20th year as a teacher. In Parkland, she teaches senior English and Introduction to Journalism and serves as the yearbook advisor. “You get into teaching because you love your subject area, you love children, and you love imparting knowledge,” Lerner says. “Nowhere in my degree was there ever anything on how to survive a school shooting, [or] how to provide triage and wound care for students.”

But for so many teachers, shepherding their students through a mass shooting has become a part of the job. While attending a panel for Guns Down America, a gun violence prevention organization, Lerner met two other teachers in whom she found solace and friendship: Abbey Clements, who taught at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Sari Beth Rosenberg, who teaches in New York City. The three teachers bonded, and, after four students were killed at Oxford High School in Michigan, Abbey Clements had an idea: What if they started an organization dedicated to gun violence prevention, run entirely by teachers and educational support staff? Rosenberg and Lerner immediately jumped on board and, the next day, the Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence website was live. Rosenberg laughs at the quick turnaround. “We’re teachers. We get stuff done,” she says.

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