Hi, gun advocates, teacher here. We need to talk. Stop with the arming teachers BS. Stop it. Really. There are so many things wrong with that line of thinking. The argument that school staff need guns to keep kids safe seems positively Orwellian. Guns are safety? Nope. Arming ourselves to the teeth and waiting for a bloodbath feels counterproductive. There are other ways to ensure safety that don’t involve adding more weapons to ward off other weapons and increasing the anxiety of young people. If we’re willing to talk about putting energy and money into arming people in schools, that means the money and energy is there to start dealing with gun culture in general and prevent these problems in the first place. Let’s spend money and energy on ways to help students understand their world and feel safe in it, rather than fill it with deadly weapons and more terror. I realize gun laws won’t change overnight, but we can allocate resources in the mean time to help at-risk youth who are not hopeless inevitabilities. I know this from experience.
Creating a Safe Environment
Several years back, I had a student named Greg who wanted terribly to be part of the group of popular boys. He had a way of saying provocative things to get their attention, but the boys would use his comments to make fun of him. Greg was growing more and more hostile. Sometimes in class, after particular students spoke, I saw him stewing. I tried pulling him aside to talk about it, but he was pretty dismissive. I reached out to Greg’s parents and to a school counselor. Greg’s parents were also worried and were relieved to have some support. They let me know about some tough things going on at home: Mom was traveling a lot for work and Dad was dealing with his own mental health issues. They partnered with the school counselor, who helped uncover the fact Greg was also being cyberbullied. (That was stopped.) The parents sought outside psychological support, too. As a school, we were able to tackle Greg’s issues head-on and create a safe environment for him. Greg started doing better in his classes and eventually headed off to college with a set of social and emotional skills he hadn’t had before. There are ways to help people who feel lost and angry, but it takes those people not feeling threatened and getting good help.
Trust the Teachers
More teachers, more support, more empathy can all come more quickly than gun reform. More teachers, more support and more empathy can de-escalate people in crisis before they bring guns into schools. Sometimes, they can even talk a shooter down, like when Georgia school clerk
Antoinette Tuff convinced a 20-year-old with an AK-47 to turn himself in. Often, however, we teachers and support staff don’t have the training to help, or are stretched so thin we miss the signs.
If you want to protect children and educators, take the money and passion you have for firearms and channel it into a grant to provide training for educators to help at-risk youth. You could also help put more caring adults in place in the schools. Pay for another school counselor’s salary. Pay for another teacher’s salary to reduce class size and allow that teacher to build meaningful relationships with students. Put enough adults on the scene so that we have the time and energy to really see that kid when something isn’t right. Finally, putting more books in children’s hands can help them see the world through new eyes. Build a library so that children can learn empathy and not hurt one another. Buy books so that a child with an unbearable home life can see there is a whole wide world to live for beyond their front door. In short, trust the teachers. More guns will only cause more pain, trauma and death. We don’t want guns.
M. Jeanette Kelleher has been a high school English teacher for 11 years. After completing the New Jersey New Pathways to Teaching Program, she began her teaching career at Mountain Lakes High School. In 2011, she moved to Friends Central School, a Quaker school outside Philadelphia. Jeanette’s passions include poetry, diversity work, and coaching cross country. She has a BA in English from ...