Dear Derek,

The breaking news from Trident Tech is that someone put a bomb in the bushes next to Building 410. (From The Post and Courier article by Andrew Knapp: “The sender was precise about the location: in the bushes near the Student Center on Rivers Avenue… campus police officers found the plastic bag hanging from wires attached to bushes outside the Student Center. Inside the bag, which was suspended about 3½ feet above the ground, was a small box, according to a report. Authorities said the box contained ammonium nitrate, an ignition device and nails.”) This occurred a week after the semester ended, and as usual, I was oblivious to the incident for several days, until I checked my .edu email and saw nothing but bomb alerts and instructions to evacuate campus.

I’m not sure where Building 410 is, but the newspaper called it the Student Center, so that would put it a couple of buildings away from Building 510 where my classrooms are located.

There’s actually a bomb threat icon on all the classroom desktops. It’s a cartoon bomb, one of those cannonballs with a fuse sticking out of it. Supposedly if I click on it, I’ll get instructions to alert the college to the threat I want to report. I was amused at the beginning of the semester when I received the email explaining the icon and its purpose, but perhaps I should be less entertained and more concerned now.

My campus is in an area of Charleston with a high rate of violent crime, and my students live in a world where rage and revenge are a way of life, but I’ve never felt unsafe at school. Maybe it’s because burly young men and a sprinkling of veterans populate my classes. Maybe it’s because helping my students understand the metaphors in “How it Feels to Be Colored Me” and worrying about the girls who have written essays about being raped consume my thoughts.

I asked my husband Kevin if he was worried. He said, “I’d be more concerned about an attack at the Citadel.”

I said, “They didn’t find a bomb at the Citadel.”

He said I should get a concealed weapons permit.

“I could never shoot someone,” I said. “Besides, they don’t allow concealed weapons at school. There are signs on all the doors.”

He snorted.

So what do you think, Derek? How do we go on teaching, and tending to our students, in a place where crazy people put bombs in the bushes?

I went to an IEP meeting for my special needs son, Bobby, at his public high school a few days after the Sandy Hook shooting, and let me tell you, those folks are rattled. I think his resource teacher is seriously considering finding a new job. And West Ashley High School has a well-contained and secure campus, unlike the sprawling, chaotic campus at Trident Tech.

You may think this is terrible, but I actually wondered if any of the other adjuncts would get nervous and quit, so I could pick up more classes.

But then it occurred to me that my students might get nervous and quit, and then I would lose my classes.

I want to know what you think. And what other people think. Seriously.

And that’s the news from the front.


Derek Smith is the editor of this blogazine. He will respond to Betsy’s letter tomorrow. This is his eleventh year teaching high school Language Arts.

Elizabeth Kalman is the great-great-great granddaughter of a Cherokee Indian maiden picked up by a wagon train on its way from the Trail of Tears in Texas to the Kentucky coal fields. Her great-great grandfather was one of the first merchants to bring silk worms to the U.S.  He kept a detailed hand-written journal that Elizabeth recently transcribed and is in the process of editing. She frequently wishes she could have accompanied Henry David Thoreau on his excursions to Cape Cod.  She grew up on Nantucket Island and is now an adjunct English instructor at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina, with an MFA from Seattle Pacific University.


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