On School Safety: one teacher’s perspective

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and I’ve got all the curtains thrown open to let the light spill into the house. It’s windy and cold outside, but warm and cozy inside. The perfect day for reading and writing; it’s all I want to do, really. But my mind continues to wander as it has been prone to doing for the last week and a half. Even during my 90-minute hot yoga session this morning–practice that I appreciate because usually all I can do during the time is concentrate on holding poses and not collapsing from the heat–my mind wandered. Now, it would be fine if my mind was wandering towards happy thoughts like rainbows and unicorns or my niece dressed like a unicorn (she loves unicorns), but that’s not the direction my mind has taken as of late. Lately, it all goes back to the recent school shooting, to all school shootings, to the ongoing debate about what to do about it all and how it all affects me as an educator.

I am really struggling with this. When I struggle, I write. What I’m writing now, to be clear, are my own thoughts in this regard. My thoughts and opinions do not reflect those of the school or district in which I teach.

Of course, this issue is, unfortunately, not new. I was a senior in high school when the students and staff of Columbine High School were attacked. The possibility of such horrendous acts has been a reality since before I became (even before I decided to become) a teacher. It is a cloud over my professional world. In similar and yet very different ways, it clouds what should be the innocent childhoods of generations of students since that time.

This has been a concern for decades, but it seems to be coming to a head and, for the first time, I’m really scared. I’m scared because the President of the United States expresses support for arming teachers. I’m scared because this argument, this approach seems to be gaining more support, more traction. I’m scared because I have so, so, so many questions.

  • Where would these guns be kept?
  • How can we make sure students won’t get their hands on them?
  • What happens if there is an attack and authorities arrive to find multiple individuals with guns–how are they to know who the “good guys” are versus the “bad guys”?
  • Does the likelihood of students and/or staff being injured by guns increase with an increase of firearms in a building?
  • Will certain areas or classrooms become targeted if it is perceived that certain staff members don’t have guns?
  • To the extent that this does reflect a mental health issue, will the threat of weaponized defense actually deter prospective attackers?
  • How much of my job will be protecting my students as opposed to teaching my students?
  • How much of my job will be spent being trained on how to protect my students as opposed to how to better teach my students?

I’m also genuinely disconcerted by the mentality behind and encouraged by this proposal. Do more guns lead to less gun violence? Doesn’t this approach mirror a militaristic approach? Is a militaristic approach appropriate for our educational institutions? And doesn’t this fundamentally change the climate in which we teach young learners? Moreoever, won’t it fundamentally affect the way these children view safety and security concerns in their futures?

So I’m scared, I’m disconcerted, but I’m also pissed. Yeah. Pissed. I’m pissed that my workplace, the place I go to serve the community as a dedicated, passionate educator, may soon be equipped as a battle ground. I’m pissed that no one has asked me about it. I’m pissed that, once again, people who are not trained professionals in my field have the audacity to claim they know what’s best for me and my professional environment. I’m pissed that professional educators armed with weapons to fight might be perceived as more valuable than those of us “simply” armed with knowledge to teach and it’s suggested that they might, someday, be compensated as such.

I’m pissed that I’ve spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon worrying, writing, and crying about this when I could have been–should have been–reading, writing, and relaxing, recharging for the week ahead. I’m also pretty pissed that I’ll wake up tomorrow with the same concerns.

But I’m also thankful. Thankful that you’ve taken the time to read this and hear me out.

Call me a nerdy English teacher (that’s just simple identification), but I believe in the power of words. I believe, quite strongly, in the power of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I believe all writing is part of an important, ongoing conversation and should be treated as such.

I think we need to take our time with these conversations, whether it be a week or so to process the information or an afternoon to grapple with it in words. I welcome your responses, but I will refrain from discussing this further for some time. Tomorrow is the start of a new school week and I owe it to my students to be fully present and engaged in our learning process. After all, I am a teacher.

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