HL Keeley has received a Bachelors degree in middle grade education. She is currently teaching middle school.
A Letter to Politicians
It is easy to judge someone's job and life without stepping into their shoes. I can sit here and assume that I understand your decisions. I can sit here and assume that I understand the pressure you are under to provide answers to hard questions. To me, it seems like you don't think through your responses and suggestions. Then again, you may have fully thought out your decisions and responses, and I might simply disagree with what you say and do. However, I feel that I should inform you of some facts about teaching that you may have overlooked as you reactively try to rewrite policies and laws.
Teachers are tired. They are tired of decisions being made without their input. They are tired of their experience and expertise being undervalued. They are tired of trying to pay off the debts they accrued while earning a degree that enables them to work in an unappreciated field.
During my first year of teaching, I became upset when I learned that I did not need a teaching degree to teach. College was not easy for me, and earning my degree tested me in ways that only those who went through the trials of the process could understand.
Administrators often enter education from unrelated professional fields, and they end up telling teachers how to do their jobs. For me, it felt like a slap in the face to find out that someone who did not have the experience and knowledge I had was considered qualified to consult on matters that would ultimately affect me and my profession.
People without a background in education are not always problematic entries into the profession. There are great lateral-entry teachers that have taught me how to play politics and make data presentations to show growth. They bring a perspective to teaching that I do not have, and I appreciate what I learn from these people.
With that said, a lot of the people who lack a background in education should stop making changes to the profession without consulting educators. In the wake of yet another school shooting, some politicians suggested arming teachers with guns, and I'm frustrated by the suggestion and its potential consequences.
Equip Teachers With Pencils—Not Guns
I cannot see how giving me a gun will help protect my students. Give guns to the teachers who want them and can use them, but I am not willing to risk accidentally shooting myself or killing a student who needs help. Even if I could inflict a superficial injury on a gunman to stop him from harming others before emergency personnel arrived, nobody can guarantee that my efforts to stop an armed assailant would be successful.
Adrenaline and instinctive reactions will affect my ability to respond to a scary situation. If I ever found myself in a situation where I'd have to face an armed attacker, I can honestly see myself trying to physically shield my students, and I would probably forget that I had been equipped with a gun.
One of my problems with the suggestion that teachers should carry guns is the fact that many students don't respect their teachers. However, students do seem to have a little more respect for teachers than the police. The students know that teachers are not allowed to physically hurt them, but if they start to see us with guns, they will view teachers in the same way they view the police. Nowadays, we write them up for breaking rules in the same way that police write tickets. If teachers are permitted to carry guns, schools will seem like jails. Teachers will cease being educators, and we will become guards instead.
As an educator, I wear a lot of hats. A teacher is also a nurse, a guidance counselor, a confidant, an advocate, and a protector. There have been a few times when I assumed the role of a bodyguard and protected my students while on field trips, but that should never be the case in the classroom.
The classroom is meant to be a safe place. I would not want a gun in my home, and I would not want a gun in the classroom. If I had a gun, a student could overpower me and take it. If a student wanted to commit a massive act of violence at school, they would not need to bring a gun because the guns would already be in school and in their teachers' possession. All a student would have to do is take the weapon and use it.
Schools Can't Afford to Provide Supplies—How Could They Afford Guns?
How can we afford to equip teachers with guns? I work with a limited budget and a limited supply of resources. My school is barely technologically-equipped. I have textbooks that are over 10 years old that I do not use. Some schools have textbooks that they do not even keep track of anymore.
The implementation of common core did not take away the importance of textbooks. They are still needed. My students often ask to use books for novel studies, but I do not have class sets of books. I also cannot print worksheets because I might need my limited allotment of copies for an emergency.
Somehow parents and students can afford to have cell phones, but they cannot buy a pack of pencils at the dollar store. A notebook is about 50 cents at Walmart, yet my students are not required to bring their own supplies to class. Many people expect schools and educators to provide supplies.
Even though some students and parents expect me to do so, I do not have to give students supplies. Many of the supplies I purchase and provide get stolen, and I can only provide so much on my own. I don't even get reliable support from substitute teachers when I'm sick. I've had to cover my classes while I was ill. And I do not get paid overtime for my work. I also do not get paid to work sporting events. I do not get paid extra for substitute teaching a class, and I don't get paid for lesson planning. If these costs can't be covered, then it is unlikely that schools can afford guns.
Communication Is Key
Before making claims about what you think schools and educators should be doing, please think through exactly what you are saying. Give teachers the respect and consideration they deserve and speak with them first. Communication is key in every relationship. Teachers are employed by the government. If the government wants to make its employees stronger, then government officials and politicians need to listen to the people they govern.
Teachers have never been shy about expressing our thoughts because we try to lead by example. We want our students to feel comfortable enough to speak out when they do not feel safe, and we want them to trust us.
Can we trust politicians? Can we trust that the decisions they are making are in our best interests? I recognize that politicians are trying to eliminate school shootings and keep our students safe. We all want the same thing, but there are ways to accomplish that without expecting teachers to carry weapons. There has to be another solution to this problem.
William Shakespeare once wrote, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Sometimes writing is more effective than military action. Let's teach the students that. Let's teach students that their concerns are louder on paper than through the sound of gunshots.
If we make teachers carry guns, we are showing students that the only way to solve problems is through potentially violent, drastic actions. It is up to us to demonstrate that drastic action and positive change should not enable or require more violence.
How can we better protect schools?
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 HL Keeley