School Safety: Is a teacher with a gun an oxymoron?

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Kori Milroy

    There is no way I would carry a gun in my classroom – not only would it be the ultimate “accident waiting to happen,” it would change the culture of classrooms into something more akin to a jail. That said, something needs to be done. Some people have suggested arming one or two administrators, or having one armed guard. But those people cannot be in all places at once so the chances of them actually being able to stop an armed intruder are small. We need strict national gun control, along with intensive mental health interventions that include armies of counselors and psychologists in schools – especially in the big cities.

    • Melody Rivera

      I absolutely agree with you Kori! Something needs to be done. As far as arming administrators, I think they too are very inexperienced and that is not their job. They are also around students frequently, therefore in my opinion, should not carry weapons.

      I think we should have expert, professional protection from those highly qualified to carry and handle a weapon at any time. Those that have gone through rigorous training to earn their badges or military honors. I just want to teach and feel safe. Yet, that is also almost becoming an oxymoron in today’s urban classrooms!

      Mental health is a gigantic issue which we have been ignoring for quite some time and now it’s contributing to the deterioration of our society. I agree and support your comment about more school couselors and psychologists. One or 2 counselors for a school of over 1,000 students (which is the case in a lot of schools in the Springfield Public Schools District), is not enough!

      And as far as gun control, I believe in the right to own a weapon. I also believe in stricter rules for the ownership of deadly weapons. Thorough background checks and stricter laws have to be put in place. In this country, it’s harder to qualify for a credit card than it is to purchase a gun and commit murder. Does that make any sense?

  2. Ann hennessey

    Thank you for this piece, Melody. You perspective on the myriad issues facing teachers and students inspires me. You also make me think about how skewed our national priorities are. Keep on writing!

  3. MM in CT

    The author and the people responding to her article seem very afraid for their own safety and the safety of the people around them. They want to feel safe but don’t want to take any responsibility for their own safety. I’m afraid it’s people like these who will never feel safe until they take some responsibility for their own safety. They may not believe they can protect themselves or those around them and I believe them. They have already made the decision to be a victim. It’s just a matter of time before they become one. Why do we put on a safety belt before we drive? Because we are GOING to get into an accident or “in case” an accident happens.? Not until we all begin to take more responsibility for our own safety will anything change. There are teachers in every school who have had police, military or other weapon training that we can look to for help. I happen to be one of those people and yet I’m forced to be a victim because of “gun free” zones. While we are reexamining our safety in schools we need to look at all of our options which may include the arming of some of our teachers with these special skills. I’m not saying to arm all teachers. I work with some that shouldn’t be driving, let alone carting a weapon. We need to be open minded “adapt and overcome” and make use of all of our resources.

    • Rachel Jones

      You make an important point. What are the most important approaches educators should take to be responsible for their own, their peers and their students’ safety? Have you had a chance to join the conversation at Hundreds of teachers from nine states, including Connecticut are collaborating on answers to this very question. A small group will be presenting their ideas to the President of the NEA, senior state government officials and our leaders in Washington. I hope you will share your ideas.

      Thank you,
      Elizabeth Evans

    • Michael O'S

      You have a valid point. There are teachers who were formerly military or law enforcement. However the keyword here is “formerly”. They are educators now and should be focused on educating their students. Do a quick look at some numbers, in the last 20 years approximately 500 students have been killed by gunfire at school. Approximately 50% of those were from students who brought guns to the school. There are 1.8 million students enrolled in public education in the state of Ohio. Extrapolate that to approximately 100 million students attending school in the USA every day…. 100 million every day! Now I believe that any student death rate over 0 is unacceptable, but for the last 5 days, 100 million students have attended school each day and as of today I am unaware of any shooting deaths….. Increase safety at the schools – YES. Does this mean arming educators – NO.

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