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Oxford, One Year Later: The teachers

Left: Lauren Rambo; Right: Melissa Gibbons
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Left: Lauren Rambo; Right: Melissa Gibbons

On November 30, 2021, Oxford science teacher Lauren Rambo was sitting at her desk in between fourth and fifth hour classes when she heard loud banging sounds outside her classroom. A flip switched off in her head.

“It sounded too rhythmic and too quick to be someone banging on a locker,” Rambo recalled.

Following the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) active shooter training, she immediately started locking down her classroom. She made sure that the doors were locked and that her students were tucked away behind her desk out of view from the window on the classroom door. She called the emergency phone line to the office to inform them there was a shooter. Then she and her students waited.

As they heard sirens and could see stretchers outside, Rambo reassured her students: Help is here. Police are here.

“I think people need to know on that day that we did so many things right that really made a difference,” Rambo said. “And that doesn't bring back or take away from the tragedy that happened to our four students and our wounded students and our colleague. But I think to know that there were things that went exactly as they should have and that saved lives is something that I'd like people to know.”

Melissa Gibbons, who is a Language Arts teacher at Oxford High School, and was on the other side of the building that day, agrees with Rambo. She thinks that as a whole they did everything right that day to prevent more injuries and death.

It took a while for Rambo and Gibbons to get to this place; a place where they can publicly talk about what happened that day. Gibbons always thought of herself as a “behind the scenes” kind of person. She never expected to be going to protests or doing interviews, but a year after the shooting at her high school, she’s doing both.

“I just feel that if this is the way I can contribute and do something and spread awareness and, you know, let people know certain things about our experiences and how we are able to recover somewhat of our life and our hearts after such a tragedy, then I guess that's what I can do,” Gibbons said.

Rambo is in a similar position. The months following the shooting, she was in survival mode and focused on being a good teacher for her students. But after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, her attitude changed. So did Gibbons’. They were angry.

Gibbons and Rambo are two of the few teachers who have spoken publicly about the shooting and the impact it's had on their lives. They’ve written about their experiences for the National Education Association and have traveled to D.C. for protests.

They sat down with each other for a conversation about what it’s like to teach after a mass shooting and why they want to share their perspectives. You can read the transcript below.

Lauren and Melissa's conversation

Lauren Rambo
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Lauren Rambo

Lauren Rambo: We met probably when I started because you already had been established. And… probably up until this summer, we've really been more of like a casual –

Melissa Gibbons: Yeah.

Lauren: You know, knowing each other in meetings and —

Melissa: Opposite ends of the building

Lauren: Yeah, exactly. It's a big building, too. But I've always, you know, really admired you. And I know the students love you. And I think — I don't know if I would say we were friends, but we were friendly with each other.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely.

Lauren: Definitely.

Melissas: So as we reflect on November 30th. What happened with you that day? Like, where were you at that moment?

Lauren: So it was between our fourth and fifth hour classes… and I was sitting at my desk and heard what I thought at first was banging sounds, and it sounded too rhythmic and too quick to be someone banging on a locker… Immediately a flip switched and said, that's not right. I remember locking eyes with one of my students and both of our faces were kind of like, this is not — this is not good. So I ran to my classroom door, which was open… I don't know that I did this, but I've been told I grabbed a couple students that were running by in the hallway… and shut the door knowing it was locked, thank goodness. But also knowing with the proximity of what I heard, I did not have time to put in my night lock device. I was able to hit the light switch, wrench the door closed, and my students had already moved to the other end of my room…. They were actually in front of the other set of windows that I had probably for this reason at one point covered in construction paper so no one can see in or out. But they were vulnerable. They were sitting in front of windows. So I kind of quietly like, get out of there, and moved them behind my desk…. And I know I have had a sticker with the number for the emergency line in the office…for 10 years. So I think my brain just said, call that number…. And then, you know, we waited. We got a message that one of the other students that wasn't with us — unfortunately lost his life. But at the time, you know, we didn't know what was going on with him. He just wasn't in the room with us… you know, unfortunately, my windows out to the road, could see ambulances coming in and stretchers going out and things like that. So I was doing my very best to keep those kids from looking out there, just reassuring them that help was here, police were here. We could hear and see the sirens. For me, it was the walkie talkies. I could hear what they were saying and I knew that it wasn't good, but my job was to keep those kids from hearing what they were saying so.... And then, of course, you know, we were escorted out of the building in a very specific route so that, you know, we wouldn't have to see anything…. And then, of course, made it eventually to the rendezvous point with everyone. So, yeah, so I know that training saved our lives because I know that that person was close to us because of what I could hear and, you know, of course, what I've heard after and since.

Melissa: Yeah.

Lauren: What was it like for you on the other side of the building?

Melissa: So I was at the end of my little hallway. And…I did hear the gunshots, I heard them. And then all of a sudden I saw a bunch of kids running around the corner…at that point, I shooed all these kids that I could find into classrooms. I think I grabbed three or four kids who I didn't even have, just shoved them all into my room. And I immediately locked my door, locked down, had the night lock in…. A lot of kids were asking, what's going on? I'm like, I don't really know for sure, but I did hear gunshots. Because I wanted to be real with them. I said, I'm not really sure, but we need to stay here. We need to stay put. We need to stay quiet…. Once I kind of knew I was – you know, my room was safe in terms of being locked down. That's when I checked in with my children. And then I texted my husband…. And so when I look at it, I think, we as a building did everything right. I really do.

Lauren: I think people need to know on that day that we did so many things right that really made a difference. And that doesn't bring back or take away from the tragedy that happened to our four students and our wounded students and our colleague. But I think to know that there were things that went exactly as they should have and that saved lives is something that I'd like people to know.

…Can you talk a little bit about when kind of everything finally hit you?

Melissa: Yeah. So for me, it was not until the evening when I was home. And so to give background to this, I am a teacher in the building. I have three children in the building and my husband is in the building. And luckily, my youngest child and my husband were home because she had tested [positive] for COVID that morning. So I think it was the first time in the whole COVID experience that it was, thank God for COVID. And so when we went into lockdown, I knew where my twins were supposed to be… But they were actually in one of the classes that got shot into…which I didn't know that until the next week, I think, which is probably a good thing. I don't know if I would have initially been able to handle that stress…. I pretty much had to just go with the, OK, my children are OK. They're locked down now. And then my focus had to be on my students in front of me. And I kind of just went through that mode of teacher mode…. After I think I want to say it was probably two hours or so when I made my way home and then all three kids were home at that point is when I completely broke down and realized the magnitude of what we had had experienced, because… even though I was worried about my own children, my initial thought was, okay, I have to take care of these kids. My colleagues are taking care of my own children. I have to take care of these children.

Lauren: You know I — you use that teacher mode terminology and I think, you know — it's just a whole different — it's a different mindset almost. You have to turn off some things and sometimes things creep through. I know you and I have talked about sometimes a noise from the hallway. Just your adrenaline just goes up… if I hear running footsteps, that's what I heard that day. And so I know that kids are not running — I don't know that's not true. But kids are running because they're late or they want to meet up with their friend. But hearing those footsteps puts me right back where I was…. And I think… the unexpected is the weirdest part. I thought for sure. Yes. I can't hear gunshots. I watched a movie, a cowboy movie, and it was fine. There were tons of them. But then you hear someone shout in the hallway at an odd time and that's what puts you over the edge. Have you had experiences like that?

Melissa Gibbons
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Melissa Gibbons

Melissa: Definitely. I would say it's, you know, like slamming of doors…screaming, loud noises. Again, in context, you know, there are times where loud noises are absolutely normal and that's fine. Right. But yeah, and I think I've seen it with my children, too, that there are just unexpected things that happen. We were at a band competition two or three weeks ago…. Something fell — I think it was probably back at the concession stand…and it like almost had a shattering effect to it. And my one daughter and I both kind of jumped and it was like, here we go. And I do think — and this is what I've kind of tried to tell my kids is — it's OK to be in that moment, but then you have to kind of get back to like thinking logically like, OK, that doesn't make sense. You know, it's just something in the concession stand that fell. Right.

Lauren: Yeah, I think we've talked a little bit about how we have a bigger set of tools to deal with stuff and how important it is to help our students kind of build up their toolboxes because it's not going to end. I mean, I do think it's gotten better for me. I don't know if you have the same, you know — It's something that you're not going to be able to stop the initial frightened, you know, response that your body has. It's then how do you assess the situation and figure out what happened? We went to see Top Gun in the summer — a few friends and I and we were sitting in the theater and I just saw a lady, and she got up and she went out the outside door. So she didn't go back around to the lobby. And so she went out the door and, you know, it's Top Gun so I can't hear if the door closed. And I could not, for three or four minutes, I couldn't calm myself down because I thought, what if that door is still propped open. Why did that lady go out that way? That was weird. And I just — I was able to turn to my friend and say, "do you think that door latched?" And he said, "Yes, Rambo, it's shut." And then the lady came back in the other way and we finished the movie and it was great, but — just I would never have expected that to impact me in that way. And I think that’s the tough part is it's always going to be kind of a spontaneous, unexpected thing. And as much as you have a coping mechanism, it's — it doesn't take away those things that are going to happen to us. And I think knowing that as an adult, that happens to me, I can't, you know, imagine what some of the students are going through. And that makes it hard, too, because we still need to teach them English and biology.

Melissa: Right.

Lauren: That's our job.

Melissa: Right.

Lauren: But sometimes they can't learn it that day, just like we may not feel like we can teach it that day. And that's tough but —

Melissa: And I think that that whole idea of giving them tools to cope, I think, is really important. I mean, we know that as adults. But again, remember last spring when we had the power outage.

Lauren: Right.

Melissa: Like I'll never forget that we had a power outage. Just — it was a windy spring day and everybody locked down again. And it was so eerie and frightening. And then I look back, you know, 10 minutes later and say, we lost power because of wind. Right. And everybody, the entire school, freaked out. And I just — for people who haven't experienced this, luckily — that those are the things that we can't plan for and we have to have a moment or two to try to compose ourselves.

Lauren: I worry a little bit about, you know, people who don't have the right connections and the right support.

Melissa: Right.

Lauren: This isn't something that is over. It's not going to be over. And I hate to just think about the lasting effects. I mean, it's going to be the rest of their lives and our lives. And it's. It's intense.

…So what are some things that you hope to see either in our district or outside of.... Some things that maybe could come from this or that you're hoping for?

Melissa: Oh, that's such a big question. A big task. I think... I am not a gun owner, but I appreciate people who are… I just think that, you know, there has to be more responsibility put on parents for gun ownership specifically… that if you are going to have a gun in your home, then you have to be responsible enough to make sure that a child, whether it's a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old, 17-year-old, can't have access to it…. I think schools are just so overwhelmed with being teachers, parents, counselors, social workers, every role that you could potentially play has kind of been put on teachers and other school officials. And I just think there needs to be much more of a partnership… and this is not just Oxford, this is not just Michigan. I think this is the state of education. So much has been put on teachers that eventually we're going to break.

Lauren: Right….I have 33 students in a classroom that was designed for 28, you know, even 28…I can do science with them and help them learn, but I can't have a clock on what everyone's feeling at every moment, every day. And that's a little bit of how I feel — there was an expectation that we should after this and a lot of speculation…You know, our country has a really unbelievable gun violence problem… I feel very disheartened that you could watch children and grandparents at the grocery store and people trying to watch a movie die and not say, hey, okay, I guess I don't need this automatic weapon. I – there's no reason for it to exist… it it just seems unreal to me that you could hold on to something at the expense of someone else's life like that.

Teachers hold signs at a March for Our Lives event in June 2022.
April Van Buren
Michigan Radio
Teachers hold signs at a March For Our Lives event in June 2022.

Melissa: I know we had talked about…what led you to get involved.

Lauren: Yeah.

Melissa: And I know for both of us, it was after Uvalde.

Lauren: I think at first it was really hard for me to picture getting up and doing anything other than kind of surviving. And like you said, being in teacher mode, being at school with the kids. And it was just overwhelming to think about even these students from Parkland who started the March For Our Lives movement, how they could have the — have anything left in the tank to to do those things right after what they experienced…You know, hearing details about the students and teachers who died in Uvalde… we've talked about the anger that it one happened again and on such a unbelievable scale and all of the things that went wrong…It was a sort of a switch flipped from, I can't to maybe if I do it can be part of that healing for me to stand-up — and you know, I saw our students —

Melissa: Right.

Lauren: Gathering and marching and creating, you know, groups and non-profits and doing all of these things. And even just the kids fighting for the memorial for their friends…and the inspiration from our students and also that just anger for what had happened… made me realize, somebody's got to. Yeah, you know.

Melissa: Yeah. And that anger is really what kind of pushed me over to become involved…. I'm much more of the behind the scenes…. And after that, Uvalde, like, that night I can remember my girls were actually coming home from dance and one of them was just in tears. And she's the one that's actually going into elementary education. And she said, "Mama, I don't know if I can do it." And that absolutely broke my heart. And it still breaks my heart… But then it — that anger definitely started to stir… I just kind of feel like when when we were approached about this, you know, that, "boy, do I want to put myself out there again," but I just keep hearing my girls, like, you have to. And I just feel that if this is the way I can contribute and do something and spread awareness and, you know, let people know certain things about our experiences and how we are able to recover somewhat of our life and our hearts after such a tragedy, then I guess that's what I can do.

These conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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