In the wake of the fatal shooting at a Nashville, Tennessee, school, Melissa Collins, who was named the 2023 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, said she is heartbroken.
"As a nation, we lost three children, babies, and three staff members, and not only was it a loss for Tennessee, but it was also a loss for our country," Collins, a Memphis second grade teacher, told ABC News, visibly holding back tears.
The mass shooting, which claimed the lives of three 9-year-olds and three adults at the Covenant School, a private Christian school in the state's capital, is the latest incident to join the list of approximately 130 mass shootings that have taken place in 2023 alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.
Collins vowed to continue teaching, but she said that she sat in her classroom until 8 p.m. Monday night reflecting on the emotional day. The massacre may prompt legislators to push for more guns on school campuses, according to Collins.
"I don't have a hand to carry a gun," Collins said. "My hands are full because I am carrying our future leaders."
Instead, she asked lawmakers in Washington to fix mass shootings by protecting teachers and their students.
"It's time to come together to create stricter gun control laws," she said, adding, "whenever you enter a building, you're hoping that children and staff members can return home. And so we need policymakers to really think about ways to protect us [teachers]. We need you, policymakers, to come together and get it right because we deserve better. We deserve to be safe."
Collins is not alone. Her predecessor, Morgan Rankin, who won the 2022 Teacher of the Year honor, which is given by the Council of Chief State School Officers, said it's harder to process because the Nashville shooting hit "close to home."
"This is an unspoken worry and weight for many educators every day," Rankin told ABC News in a statement. "I know tomorrow that teachers across the state will wake up thinking about what they would do to ensure that their students and themselves get home safe."
Having to deal with school shootings is just one of the factors taking a toll on teachers' mental health since the start of the pandemic.
Educators cite a range of emotions, including burnout, as a primary cause of some teachers wanting out of the classroom amid a nationwide shortage. Some are haunted by fears that they, their families and their students won't be safe at school.
The news continues to weigh on Collins, she said, because she visited the National Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kansas, over the summer. It's a permanent tribute to educators who lost their lives on school grounds.
Hopeful for better days, she now lives with knowing the memorial will only grow larger this week.
"We always end each ceremony saying 'no new names' and I'll be going back this summer and we're going to be adding new names," Collins said.