So I had a student pull out a knife today. A great big, "I could gut you like a pig" knife.
It's not as bad as it sounds. OK, it is, but not in the way you're thinking. It was after class and he was admonishing us all to be safe around campus because there has been a rash of sexual assaults. He prefaced the knife by saying that he wouldn't usually have this, but he ordered it for his sister and it just came in.
He reached into his backpack, and for a brief moment I thought he might have a gun. Total paralysis set in.
But then he pulled out the knife, a six-inch weapon sheathed in hefty black leather. "If you pull this out," he said, "no one will mess with you." For a moment I was met with a strange sense of relief mixed once again with paralysis. He pulled it out of its sheath and for a moment I laughed. It looked fake with its black blade. A prank, I thought. Scare the would-be assaulter away with the idea of a big knife. But then he told us it was indeed real, and razor sharp.
I have never felt so uncomfortable and worthless in front of a classroom in my entire life. He meant no harm, but students were visibly backing away from him. What was probably only a few seconds felt like time stood still. And I did nothing but stare at him.
What could I have done? Part of me feels like I should have instructed him to put the weapon away. A bigger part of me knows that this almost seven foot tall man with a large knife scared me too much to even move.
I'm not even sure what to do with the whole situation--I'm hoping that my students aren't too uncomfortable to continue being open in class. I'm hoping that I didn't fail them by not taking control of the situation. I'm hoping a lot of things--many of them involving never seeing any weapon in my classroom again.