School Climate & Safety Opinion

What School Safety Means for Teachers

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 27, 2018 4 min read
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Sandy Hook taught the nation that little children could become gun violence victims in their classrooms. It taught us, or it at least showed us, that teachers, school psychologists and school leaders could be killed in schools as well. School leaders began to respond with preparation in securing facilities, training staff and student drills, in building relationships with law enforcement, and in bringing community mental health agencies into schools. The leadership of the response was mostly that of proactive school leaders with little help from legislatures to initiate prevention strategies.

Last week, a high school in Florida brought the lessons home to us again. Before the news was even available, conservative talk radio hosts were suggesting the solution....arm teachers. In fairness, the same was probably happening on more liberal stations but that solution was more likely limiting access to assault weapons. We have been propelled headlong into the debate about the answer. Each of us has our own. The good news is that all of us seem to have an escalating will to end school shootings. We are optimistic that laws will change this time, either state by state or at the federal level. If assault weapons are not banned, age requirements may be raised and background check systems may be improved. The reality is that in a 6 minute shooting spree the 18 year old shooter hit over 30 human beings, many of them multiple times. 17 of those shot lost their lives. But, everyone at Marjory Stoneman Douglas will be forever changed and the community will also.

Arm Teachers?

Emerging from this, however, is the momentum to arm teachers. And, the resistance builds also. Most who choose education as their profession due so for scholarly and altruistic reasons. They are motivated to help others, to invest their lives with children, to explore an academic area or a physical or artistic pursuit and ignite the passion for it among students, to become part of a community, make the world a little better and leave a legacy of hope and service.They do not enter the profession to become rich, nor for benefits but those come along with their choice.They plan every night and read papers and projects. They begin each day with a welcome to each child regardless of what the previous day was like.

Teachers enter the profession to help students grow and develop.They become protectors of children when they see bullying or when a child comes to school with a bruise. At Sandy Hook and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, they gave their lives in the role of protector. They did it spontaneously, danger for the students meant they were called to react. We call them heroes as we should. Now, the debate about keeping school safe from gun violence may give them another role...not the one to support and develop, not the one to protect, but a new one... to raise a firearm and to protect by taking a life. There are some within the profession who will accept that role but none in the field now entered knowing that might be added to their responsibility. As we listen to those espousing this solution, we hear that only those who volunteer will be asked to carry. Some are already doing this.

It seems to us that this is a solution proposed by those who haven’t lived in a school. They don’t know what schools sound like filled with young voices or the crowded halls as classes pass or dismissal happens. Schools are living places. Does one feel safer when hundreds, even thousands, of young people are under attack by someone with an assault rifle and there is an armed teacher somewhere on another floor or the other end of the building? Drills help but fear and pounding hearts take over. So, is this the answer? We don’t think so.

What Is The Answer?

The answers will be many and they won’t be the same in every school or every community. But some principles apply. Students and teachers and all in schools deserve to be safe. It seems on this we all agree. How is the question where the agreement shreds. The POTUS and others argue it is time to shift schools away from being “soft targets”. Gun free zones have made them vulnerable. If that position carries weight, there will be weapons added to the school environment. It is antithetical to the environments we have worked so hard to create but is that the only way? No, other options exist. Secure the facility, and the rooms, add cameras and alarms. Eliminate assault weapons or at least raise the age of a person who can purchase them. Make bump stocks illegal. We cannot comprehend the number of shots fired in that high school in just 6 minutes. And, yes, strengthen the background check system. It is also critical to Invest in filling the school-community cracks through which disaffected and despondent young people fall and become lost and angry and armed themselves.

In the hope that this time will be different and something will really change, and against a background where education has been criticized for all it doesn’t do and is constantly being asked to do more, know this. The teachers and leaders in school will protect the children with their lives as we have seen. But they shouldn’t need to replace those who choose to serve and protect, the police. Others have been trained to use deadly force when necessary. Let’s keep teachers focused on learning and police on keeping us all safe.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay

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