by Melody Rivera
“The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, and the great teacher inspires …”
Tim Daly, actor and president of the Creative Coalition at a recent Sundance Film Festival luncheon.
I’d like to ask Daly, our communities and policy makers, what does a teacher with a gun do?
To me and to most of the colleagues I’ve spoken with, the idea of a teacher with a gun in the presence of students violates our educator code of ethics.
In the forlorn aftermath of the Newtown shooting in CT, we teachers have been on edge. Approximately 2 months ago, teachers were praised all over the media for their bravery, hard work and commitment to education. The media was plastered with signs supporting the work of teachers in the classroom and in life-threatening situations. Today, those same signs of support have a lethal weapon attached to them.
The reality of our urban school systems in the United States is that guns are already very much present within our youth. So are gangs, knives, brass knuckles and just about every other attack weapon a person can think of when violence and hatred are on the agenda.
I’ve been teaching in urban schools systems since 2009. The first 3 years of my career were spent in the Springfield Public Schools System in the state
of Massachusetts. Numbers from FBI data suggest the city of Springfield to be among the top 12 most dangerous cities in the nation, according to the
Republican Newspaper’s article in May of 2011. A 2010 Northeastern University study, ranked Springfield, MA as the second most segregated city in the nation for Hispanics, trailing behind only Los Angeles.
These statistics only hint at how grim and challenging the situation is for teachers in the area where I teach. The reality behind the statistics is this:
In my second year of teaching the 4th grade at a local elementary school, I had 2 of my students bring deadly weapons into my classroom and threaten to use them lethally against another peer. The first weapon was a set of adult- sized brass knuckles. The second was a blade the student used to threaten to kill another of my students while flailing and lunging upon him, and was provided by his father. Both students were 8 years old.
Now let’s fast forward to the middle and high school levels in the same district. There you will find gangs that have overtaken schools with their power and influence and have made the metal detector an archaic monument. My mother, a veteran teacher of almost 30 years in this school system, has been approached by her student gang members offering her protection from any imminent danger. This is the reality of the America’s urban classrooms. The students are experts at violence, guns and hatred. How wise does it make us to propose more violence and inexperienced teachers with guns as a solution to the problem?
Instead of more violence and less education, here’s a thought: let’s educate ourselves on the reason and solution for the increased violence, suicide and
mental health problems prevalent in our youth today. The questions should be: why are these shootings on the rise? Why is the suicide rate among our
young also escalating? And why is cutting back on educational programs and professional staff such as school psychologists the go-to answer if we want positive results?
The federal government didn’t trust teachers to just teach, thus the new teacher evaluation systems became a federal mandate in order to ensure that every educator was proficient in their craft. In addition to the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees most teachers possess, teacher evaluation systems also encompass a plethora of data, performance notes and evidence-based on administrative observations of the educator to ensure a qualified and proficient teacher in the classroom. Yet, some states and their legislation are giving teachers the green light to hold a lethal weapon and to bring it into their classrooms after a miniscule 3-day training? How will I be proficient at handling a lethal weapon in a high-stress and emotional environment with only 3 days of training under my belt?
I believe in protecting our schools. Yet I believe that protection should be provided by highly trained staff capable of using weapons effectively on a daily basis. I also believe in changing the world for the better, preferably by non violence and by imbuing ignorant, violent minds with education.
Melody Rivera is a World Language Teacher in the Chicopee, MA school district.