This week has been exhausting. I thought initially it was the jet lag from a fabulous winter break but realize now it’s the stress of going back to school after the escalating conversation about school safety. I was even approached in the gym yesterday (wearing my America Needs Teachers shirt – always trying to rep education in public) when a stranger stopped and asked what I thought about having a gun in the classroom. My current thoughts are all over the place, but I wanted to share because so many non-teachers seem to have answers. I don’t have answers to a complicated situation, but I am in a school on a daily basis. These opinions are strictly my own and in no way represent others in my school or district. Here are some thoughts in no particular order:
MS Douglas High School
I must start here because as people argue and debate answers, faculty and staff returned to classes this week two weeks after 17 lives were cut short in the same building. I am proud of these students for standing up and saying “Enough” and am perplexed that we live in a country that encourages voicing opinions, but when students voice theirs, some write them off and want them to be quiet. My students wrote notes to the AP Lit students at MS Douglass this week as their AP Lit teacher (a fellow reader) had reached out and asked for encouraging notes to welcome her students on their return. We had a good conversation in Room 128 about what to say – and what not to say – to people when they are grieving; my students blew me away with their thoughtfulness, sincerity, and compassion. Above all of the debates, conversation, and what-ifs, may we never lose sight that real lives were lost.
Guns in the Classroom
I personally would not be comfortable having a gun in my classroom. First, if I am a teacher in a crisis situation (God-forbid), I want my focus to be on the safety of my students. I need to be giving them instructions and making sure they are quickly doing what needs to be done. If I am getting a key, unlocking a firearm, and prepare to shoot, I am not focused on them. Secondly, I teach 17 and 18-year-olds, and the thought of having a gun in my room with some of my students – even if it is under lock and key – would stress me out. And I don’t stress easily. I also don’t like the thought of giving an incentive for teachers who have guns because I know too many people who just want to make extra money. And if you have guns all over the building, how do the first responders know who should or should not have guns when they arrive on the scene? There’s just so much wrong with this in my mind.
Consequences for Threats
People should never “joke” in a threatening manner; this devalues human dignity and life. Threats – whether verbal or on social media – should be taken seriously and dealt with quickly. Students must know there will be consequences for any type of behavior that violates or even appears to violate the safety of others.
Mental Health Resources
Our counselor to student ratio is approximately 1:400. In addition, counselors are responsible for registration, college and career planning, some testing, and lots of other things. Schools need professionally trained counselors available during school hours to our students who are in crisis or have mental health issues. Students are often referred to counselors, but sometimes the ones who need it the most do not have parents who will take them to counseling. Please, let’s address mental health in our schools! In addition, listen to classroom teachers; we are the eyes and ears on these students as we interact with them daily. We are professionals also; trust our judgment.
I see no reason to sell these. Period. Some claim it’s their right, but I have always been taught when a right interferes with another person’s well being, it’s no longer a right. For more on gun control, I defer to Brene Brown who I not only agree with but she says it so much better than me in Gun Reform: Speaking Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change.
Incidents at my School and County
As with other schools across the U.S., my school and district have dealt with some safety incidents this week; this appears to be common following what happened in Parkland. First, I want to address adults who are posting things on social media about this – STOP DOING THIS! Many posts are based on rumors and speculation, and even the ones that report “facts” perpetuate fear and give attention to those who do these things to seek attention. I am not saying we should ignore these incidents, but face-to-face conversations trump social media every time. Students are learning digital citizenship from adults, and sadly we are failing them in many ways in this area.
Nothing replaces the family dinner table. As a teacher, I am pleading with you to be involved in your kid’s life. Don’t live their lives for or through them but know where they are, who they’re hanging out with, and what they’re doing. This is your business! Our schools desperately need parents to parent.
What I am most tired of is that so many people who make decisions for students and teachers do not have security at work. Everyone in their building must enter through metal detectors and have armed security guards in the building (we do have two SROs at our school). If it’s what they need for security, why is it not what our students need and deserve? How much more will we have to witness in our schools to make necessary changes?
Most educators didn’t sign up for all of this, but we will do it because we are passionate about students. We’re doing our best to not only keep your kids safe but to teach as well. Please keep our schools, students, administrators, and teachers in your prayers.