Full Interview with Jeffrey Foster


Jacob Strier, Distribution Manager


  1. Q. Could you tell me about your experience in the shooting? You could share as much or as little as you would like.

Foster:  The day of we had a fire drill that morning and then I’d been telling the kids for weeks that there was going to be a code red or a code black coming up because the administration had been talking about it for a while, even to the point where after the fire drill that day (the rest of the periods). I had told the kids, “We might have a live, fake-shooter drill on campus in the next couple of weeks.” When the fire alarm went off, the majority of my students thought it was a fake drill. I think at least on my side of the building, as I was opposite where the killings took place, I think it actually led to a little bit more calm until we got phone calls that said “active shooter.”

Then all hell broke loose. Then the people started climbing fences and running and jumping. My teacher neighbor told me that he thought he’d heard shots, again we weren’t sure if they were real or if they weren’t real. I personally did not hear them. When my brother said there was an active shooter on campus, me and my two colleagues who are responsible for that side of the building stayed behind and made sure everybody escaped, for lack of a better word. Then we walked out to the streets, it was just pandemonium. We were on the street that was parallel to the building, there had to be at that point a hundred cops, and cops were coming from every corner of the world at that point. There was just cop car after cop car after cop car. I hate to use the word surreal, but it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was unimaginable, it was indescribable. It felt like a brain-wipe, it was just a bad dream.

And unfortunately that dream went on for about a month afterwards. It’s still going on, it just doesn’t hurt as much as it did the first month because now we are realizing that it is reality and we are coping with it. The days afterward, no sleep — waking up and sweating. Just trying to console as many adults and kids at every funeral I went to over the next week-and-a-half. Unfortunately I refer to it as the period of funerals. I had a calendar of every funeral I was going to. Think about the logic of that: even in a war, who is going to a funeral two, three times per day. That day and the moments after and the days after and the weeks after were, just, unimaginable.

Q: I have read several articles that have been written about you. You do teach AP Government…can you tell me a little bit about how you teach your students about government, what is it like to see your students actually starting to get involved in effecting change in the government?

Foster: It is not surprising. We have incredible families in our community. We have people who come from the socioeconomic class that tends to vote and participate. Our student government has always been really solid at our school, they get a lot of stuff done. This is a grander stage for that, but through my discussions in class and through socratic seminars which I have in class, and the passion I hear in these kids’ voices, the fact that David, Emma and Delaney [three well-known Parkland activists] are the forefront of this, it doesn’t surprise me. Those kids have been vocal all year leading up to this and it is not surprising that they are all on the stage, they turn lessons into action.

I don’t want to denigrate these kids, but we have a great school for a long time and it would surprise me if this would have happened five years ago, ten years ago, two years ago, just a different cast of characters would have showed up. Our community is a strong community. The family and the other teachers at this school did an amazing job informing these kids and encouraging these kids to participate. In my syllabus it says, “If you don’t participate, you can’t complain.” I want kids to vote first, participate, and if they don’t do that, they don’t have any right as Americans to sit around and complain because they have so many different opportunities to participate at different levels of government in this country.

  1. Q. Did you attend the March for our Lives? Can you tell me about that experience?

Foster: Yeah, I was in Washington D.C. It was unbelievable. I was in contact with the majority of speakers beforehand. The alumni helped organize marches all around the country, in places like Denver and Boston and even locally in West Palm Beach and Parkland. Fall Out Boy put out a concert, a concert for change. That morning, because I was the person that organized the trip to the march for all the kids. I had VIP stand at the march, so I was with the celebrities and I was able to get backstage and talk to the speakers beforehand. The majority of our kids met at the Marriott, and marched over en masse (about 2,000 of them).

The messages were powerful, I loved the way that the march people mixed in people from other communities which were affected by gun violence. Our kids are not just for Douglas, they are for Chicago, for Washington D.C., Los Angeles, they don’t want gun violence anywhere. It’s a shame that the NRA and to a degree, Fox News, has made it out like we are trying to steal people’s guns. We’re not trying to steal people’s guns, we are trying to make sure that the right type of citizen is able to own a gun and not be able to own something that can murder 150 people in 25 seconds. That’s not the message they are putting out. I am pretty active on Twitter, every time I read something from the NRA or from a conservative commentator, it is all about the second amendment and then I’ll see Delaney, or Ryan or Emma immediately shoot back and say “Look, we’re not trying to take your guns people.” We are trying to change the argument, in a positive way. We want to say: “We want A, B, C, and D. You can own your hunting rifles, you can have as many guns as you want. Just not these types of guns.”

  1. Q. Could you tell me about the prominent argument in the media, which is: should teachers be armed? What are the possible negative or positive consequences of that.

Foster: We are going back Monday, and apparently we are going to be “wanded” when we walk into school, which is a big change for us. An email went out, a lot of teachers are upset about it and a lot of teachers are happy about it. As for arming teachers, I would say it is about 80:20 in our school against it. There are definitely teachers who think that it is a good idea, I am not one of them. I do believe though that we should have more security at the school. If the school resource officer had reacted, maybe it could have been handled. In Maryland [more recent school shooting], the [armed security] person did their job and the shooter still killed multiple people. I have a few good friends who think teachers should be armed. Then you have people on campus with guns so instead of waiting five minutes for the cops to get there, you’ve got people who are essentially ready to defend on the spot in any are within a minute. The negative side is the fear factor of teachers having guns. Obviously, anyone can lose their mind at any point. Just putting another less-qualified adult with a weapon on campus does not make much sense. I don’t agree with this, but I’ll say it: maybe a teacher would overreact to a minority student, and we see what happens in these cities like what happened in Sacramento the other day.

If we can afford to pay teachers, why don’t we just train or even get officers in town to volunteer once a week just be an extra presence on campus. I have a friend who is a police officer who I guarantee would give up six hours of his day just to walk around campus, armed. It would be a lot more safe. I know for a fact that there are police officers from different cities whose kids go to our school who would volunteer. Arming teachers is a cheap way to get away with it [security].

  1. Q. Did you attend the CNN Town Hall? (To which he responds, yes). Can you tell about your thoughts of Rubio’s remarks, or the NRA representative’s?

Foster: I actually supported Rubio when he ran for president years ago. I am a Republican. I thought he was a good vote for the party because he had not said anything inflammatory yet. He has kind of gone the wrong way for me, unfortunately, now. I appreciate that he showed up, I thought some of the remarks from the parents and kids… I mean to say he killed kids is a bit of a reach. Did he take money from the NRA? Sure he did. I don’t want to say the NRA has been positive in this, but I think that the majority of the members of the NRA are not bad people. To say that just because he took money from the NRA that he is a child-killer might be taking it a little far. At the same time he is digging his own grave by making certain remarks about the kids. It would be hard to support him again in any race that he runs in the State of Florida. The fact that he showed up was impressive, and I thought he had some decent answers that night. They [Rubio and NRA spokeswoman] backtracked a lot on what they said. They were the ones acting like the children. I thought he held his ground okay. How is he going to look, he can’t put a sixteen year old in his place while looking good. Some of the things that he has done and said, have tarnished his reputation in my head. He is actually meeting with one of my students today, so we will see. I got a phone call from the student asking me what to say, and if his notes were good. When kids send me stuff, I say “send me what you’ve got” and 99% of the time I just say it looks awesome. I don’t want to be their voice. If they need me to have confidence that what they are saying is right, I am happy to be there to proofread. I’ve done that with a bunch of speeches, and a bunch of pre-meeting type stuff. I respect that they love me enough to reach out to me.

  1. Q. How is it logistically operating in the high school? Are students working? Are they going to get ready for their APs in time?

Foster: I would say no to the [AP] question. In my geography class, we are not doing much yet. In AP, at least in my class, some of my kids are so involved in the movement that I will try to do a little review, and then we will just devolve into discussion about what’s going on. I told them that when we get back from Spring Break we are going to push, and push and push. That’s going to be difficult, because some of these kids are so occupied. We are having town halls next week, organized by David. How the hell is David going to prep for his four or five AP classes. We are striving to make it normal, but normal for us is not what it was before February 14 obviously. It is very difficult to hold some of these kids accountable for studying and grades. So, instead of giving practice exams individually, I might do them in groups. It’s a little less stressful for them.

I’m not that concerned about their grades, I am more concerned about their mental health right now. I assume that this will be my lowest pass percentage on the AP test in a lot of years, even though I have these amazing kids. We have lost four weeks of school now. The first week back we built puzzles, and we talked, and we played UNO while organizing the trip [to the March]. Whatever they get [grades] will be good enough for us this year.

  1. Q. Do you have any other things you’d like to share with me about what it has been like being a teacher throughout this process?

Foster: I don’t want to say that there is any good that comes out of this. We all wish that this had never happened. But, the closeness of the community from the kids, to the parents, to the teachers to the alumni. We have something now, because of this awful massacre, that we treasure. I probably ran into a thousand kids I’ve had over the years, and had meaningful conversations with them. Those would probably be a thousand conversations I would never have had with them for the rest of their lives. It’s just nice, I wish it never happened, but it’s been nice to reconnect with my old students. The bond I have with this group will be unique forever. It’s a unique, special and sad bond. I’ve never been closer to the community of Douglas in my life.

  1. Q. Have you spoken with your students about what it is going to be like after the media explosion dies down?

Foster: I’ve spoken to some of them. We have all kind of been wondering that. David and Emma and Delaney and Ryan are the four I have in class, we have talked about it and they have great families and a great support system. I don’t know if it is going away any time soon, because the majority of them [students] want to get into poly-sci now and this could be a life mission for most of them. They’re not going to be on CNN every night for the rest of their lives. But I think they’re going to etch in the public consciousness. I don’t think these kids are going away time soon. I am a little worried, because at some point they’ve got to grieve