A Teacher with a Gun
I was a classroom teacher for twenty-six years in both high school and middle school. I was the Dean of Students in a high school for eight years. Please, don’t make me be a teacher with a gun.
It’s not that I’m afraid. Though it’s difficult to know how you’ll act if the worst happens (ask that deputy in Florida) I knew that part of my job as Dean of Students was to find the shooter. Yes, we talked about all of this, one administrator bolted in his office with the video screens, a phone, and a window to the outside; one administrator directing staff and students; and one administrator to go find the shooter.
Our hope was to have enough communication with students before that event, that we could avoid it. We studied Columbine, and saw the signals they missed. We worked to develop lines of communication in our one thousand-student school, so that we knew our kids, the good and the bad and the silent. It wasn’t that the potential shooter would come talk to us (though kids often find ways to cry out for help, if someone’s listening, Nicklas Cruz did) but they almost always talk to someone, a friend or a classmate; and that someone needs to trust an adult will listen.
And if they don’t talk directly to someone, they post. Students would walk into my office and let me know what was being said or shown on social media, something even the best prepared adults aren’t able to access. Whether it was pictures of weapons or threats of harm, it gave us the opportunity to intervene.
That was our job: establish trust. We hired staff that could relate to kids, and we opened our doors. You can’t just develop rapport when there’s a crisis, it has to be day to day. But it’s tough to do with a gun and holster and your hip: a loaded firearm somehow changes the conversation.
We had a Sheriff’s deputy, a school resource officer. He was there because of the ultimate threat, but he helped with a myriad of discipline/legal issues. And because he was a good one, he also found a group of kids that related to him, he opened lines of communication. But the uniform and the gun made him stand out and defined his role.
Not to think about how many fights I jumped into, both as a Dean and as a teacher. Many times my years as a wrestling coach helped to mitigate a fight, keeping kids from hurting each other more. Do that with a loaded gun? What happens if it comes loose, gets in the hands of a kid stoked with adrenaline, goes off accidently. A school shooting created by the addition of a weapon.
Introducing more weapons into a high school or middle school environment is like putting gas on a fire. In an emotional time of life, when kids are struggling with all kinds of turmoil, you don’t need the constant reminder of deadly force, of an “ultimate solution” to a problem. And it’s not always just kids. Adults in schools are subject to the same stresses, and sometimes, they crack as well. Schools don’t publicize that, but it certainly happens. What if they had a gun?
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” We hear that over and over. And, it’s reasonable to look at the establishment that has the most guns, the military, to see how they handle them. In military life, guns are highly controlled. In base, most soldiers are disarmed most of the time. Their military weapons are brought out for use, then carefully cleaned and put back in storage. The military police carry sidearms, and the guards at the perimeter patrol with weapons, but generally, folks aren’t armed.
So if the military has it figured out, a highly disciplined organization like that, why would we assume students with be safer if teachers had guns? It seems like the contrary so much more likely, guns introducing life and death choices into almost every scenario.
We are desperate to protect our kids. We want our schools to be safe, nurturing, and accepting. As other institutions in our society have changed, schools are taking on more and more of the responsibility of caring for kids: from health and nutrition to guidance and mental health. And, as our schools serve everyone, we need our schools to be accessible to those with differences. None of those goals are served by adding deadly weapons to the hallways.
Schools should take reasonable actions. They should control access, they should develop cooperation with law enforcement, they should develop rapid response plans. Most of all, they should listen to their kids. What they don’t need is a teacher with a gun. Guns are society’s problem that comes into school. Fix that.