Dear President Trump,
If I wanted to carry a gun, pistol, rifle, firearm of any kind, I would have joined a different profession. I would have pursued a military career or that of a policeman, security guard, or secret service agent. I could have been many things, but I chose to be a teacher. The very term “armed educators” is a paradox if we continue to believe that giving me a gun in my classroom is going to prevent students suffering from mental health issues from repeating Columbine or Sandy Hook or, most recently, Parkland. We know these places as towns, but here’s the thing: before they were horrific tragedies, they were schools filled with people like us, teachers and principals and paraprofessionals and food service workers– and the students we nurture each day.
Today, students asked me what I thought about teachers being armed– the front line to combat school violence. I thought I knew how I would answer. I thought I could share my response and not be “political.” I thought I could just say, “I won’t carry a gun in my classroom.” But instead, my eyes filled up with tears as I tried to explain to my kids all the better ways we could ARM ourselves as educators which would not actually require me to be armed. How do we make others understand that for all the divisiveness the term “gun control” causes in our country, school violence is about gun violence. We must combat gun violence and doing it by giving teachers guns is CLEARLY not the answer.
Don’t get me wrong– I’m all for School Resource Officers, AKA Police Officers whose offices are WITHIN the school who work closely with students and counselors and administrators, carrying guns. They should carry guns, along with anything else like tasers, handcuffs, etc they need to do what they have been trained to do as professionals.
Here is what teachers are trained professionally to do. Here is what we are armed with. Here is how we know best to protect the children and adolescents in our classrooms:
- We are armed with really good ears whose job is to listen to students when they share their hearts out loud or on paper. When kids speak to each other hurtfully or disrespectfully, our ears hear their words, and we are required by law to report potentially harmful information.
- We are also armed with the ability to help students to find their voices both in speaking tones and written ones. Our voices are what we use first to defend ourselves.
- We are armed with first rate communication skills to seek out parents, whether they are concerned or unconcerned, distracted or hyper focused on their kid.
- We have the ability to collaborate with one another along with other professionals like guidance counselors and psychologists and other special educators who have students’ best interests at heart.
- We are armed with empathy and compassion and patience.
Good teachers though know that even with this impressive list of skills and weapons, children across our country are still dying violently without explanation. But even back in the south during the integration of white schools, local, state, and federal government knew not to put weapons in the school as only God knows what would happen if they fell into the wrong hands. Instead, towns and schools let Federal marshals escort Ruby Bridges at 6 years old into her new school to defend her and thwart the threat of violence on innocent children. They left the firearms to the professionals, and left her education to Ruby’s teachers.
I am a good English teacher because I learned from and trained with professionals. I have the best job in the world on most days because I get to see the inside workings of teenagers’ brains– what they are thinking, feeling, wondering, predicting, deciding, and hovering between at any given moment. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my fair share of names over the last 21 years of students who struggled to find success in my classroom and maybe would have open fired had they been given the opportunity. And I’m just one of many. We still have too many kids in our larger world who are not getting what they need. Learning is impossible if other basic human needs aren’t being meant–and that doesn’t even begin to tackle the mental health issues– which results in every school in America benefitting from another School Resource Officer, drug and alcohol counselors, student support personnel, social worker, clinical psychologist, family therapist. Here, President Trump, is what should be given additional funding, along with physically improving the health and wellness and safety of the schools themselves.
Respectfully, I will not carry a gun in my classroom. But I will continue to carry my heart, along with the hope and fear I balance for our own children and those we teach in our classrooms.