Even When Teachers Don't Feel Safe, They Don't Support Guns in the Classroom

Sep 20, 2018 12:00:00 AM


Hear us teachers loud and clear: We do not want to be armed, and we do not want to work in prison-like school buildings. We became teachers to help students flourish and grow, and arming us erodes our relationships with students, which, in turn, would make all of us less safe. A recent national survey of teachers by Educators for Excellence called “Voices from the Classroom” found that while nearly 1 in 3 teachers, or 31 percent, report fearing for their own physical safety at school, the vast majority of teachers—65 percent—do not support arming educators as the answer to that concern. And yet, the prospect of using precious school resources on defensive measures continues to surface, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently introduced a measure that would allow federal money earmarked for mental health services to be used on building security, essentially turning schools into fortresses. How many stories do we have to read about a teacher accidentallyor sometimes entirely on purpose—discharging a gun in a classroom to know [pullquote position="right"]this is a disaster of an idea[/pullquote]? The carnage that would result from arming America’s teachers would far outweigh the losses from the tragic mass shootings our country currently suffers.

Mental Health Assistance, Please

Mental health therapy is a valuable investment. Here in Chicago, where the gun violence epidemic claims lives almost daily, students arrive at the schoolhouse door carrying the trauma of that violence with them. Therapy made a difference for a kindergartener in one of my recent classes, who had been shot twice in his short five years on earth—once in the arm, accidentally, by a family member, and once in the cheek while playing at a local park. During art therapy, he would draw dark pictures of shootings, death and darkness, but he also began to come out of his shell because he said he felt safe at school. Now imagine if he had encountered a loaded gun in the one place he felt safe, wielded by one of the teachers he trusts. During my two-plus decades in the classroom, I can recall many encounters with students who acted out, triggered by trauma they experienced outside of school. Not one of those incidents would have been made better by the presence of a gun. So, one might ask, what do we do when students are disruptive? Teachers in the survey say that [pullquote] positive interventions and restorative practices are the most effective way to address student behavior, especially for students who are traumatized.[/pullquote] In fact, teachers far prefer those tactics to exclusionary measures like suspension and expulsions, the survey found. But those programs require funding, both for training educators and for hiring support personnel like social workers, counselors and others to help ensure students are thriving. That’s why teachers across the country have reacted so vehemently against putting students in danger by further exposing them to guns and potential gun violence in the classroom. Our jobs are demanding enough without also worrying about securing and storing firearms in a classroom full of students. School is a place where you learn civility, problem solving and teamwork. It’s not a place for guns—especially those owned by trained and trusted adults. Teaching the whole child means just that: Teaching all of a student, even their traumas, and finding ways to work with unruly behavior rather than punishing it. The push to arm teachers is not just misguided—it’s dangerous, and it will turn a school safety crisis into a catastrophe.

Tracy Netter

Tracy Netter has been an elementary teacher in Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years. She is a member of Educators for Excellence’s teacher survey advisory group.

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