Saturday, August 30, 2008

As I glanced through the New York Times, I came upon a news item that dampened my identification with my Netflix favorite, Friday Night Lights. As James C. McKinley, Jr. explains in “In Texas Schools, Teachers Carry Books and Guns,” a small Texan town decided to begin the school year with some teachers carrying concealed guns.

I realize that there is a regional culture at play here. I get the fact that I probably wouldn’t choose to teach in this school district anyway. However, as both a parent and an educator, I find the premise that teachers should be armed wholly offensive. The concept contradicts the social contract between students and teachers. “I’m here for you. I’m going to work with you, on respect, on attitude, and on your education. Unless, of course, I have to shoot you.”

Listen, I teach in a state with fairly lenient gun laws. I realize every time a student leaves my room unhappy with me that there’s a chance he or she can return with a gun and shoot me. Middle-schoolers carry guns to schools in our area. I get the threat, truly. Jonesboro happened my third year of teaching, so perhaps I formed my social contract with students with the horror of the school shooting on the table. I understand that police officers in our schools carry weapons; I even understand that the police officer may be in plainclothes, so that a shooter would not know who to shoot first. I’ve taught quiet, tense children who wrote dark poetry and made me think about Columbine. I’ve taught loud, angry children with parole paperwork. I’ve had altercations with perfectly nice seeming children that made me wonder if I’d ever see an attack coming. However, I consider it a risk I take on with the job, similar to the chance of death I take on when I get in the car and drive. (Or the risk lots of adults take when they go into work…schools have not cornered the market on violent shootings in the past twenty five years.)

If we teachers begin each day, strapping on our concealed weapons, with the defensive position that our students may, in fact, start shooting after the warm-up and before the vocabulary quiz, then we have truly lost our teaching spirit. “Teacher expectations result in student achievement.” Isn’t that the tattoo they make us get? If we expect them to shoot us, aren’t we feeding into a negative self-perception at odds with the students we hope to cultivate? Might they shoot us? Yes, they might. Do they? More often then ever in history, but still, statistically, not that often. Let’s take the risk and leave our guns at home.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Educator

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, but I just cannot agree with your position on concealed guns in the particular Texas school that has choosen to do this. Do I believe it is the right decision for all schools? No! For that particular school? Perhaps. I too teach in a small rural 1A school in the middle of practically nowhere, 20 minutes from either a police or sheriff's department, and located on a major highway. I choose to teach in this school and would not teach anywhere else, and it is too bad you would not choose such a school. The students are incrediblly kind, thoughtful, respectful students, who deserve the same education as any other students. My fear is not of students but of unknown intruders from the highway.
My feelings are based in personal experience. In 1984, I was working alone as a cashier in a convenience store in a tiny remote rural community just off of a major highway. Two men who were not from the area robbed me and kidnapped me for several hours. Horrible things happened that night. As a teacher I would want the ability to do everything within my power to protect my students. We practice "shelter in place" drills where we huddle in a corner of the room away from the window so that a shooter cannot see the children. My first drill came the first week that I taught in this school when an irrate parent in a bitter custody battle threatened to come to the school and shoot his own children. Authorities were summoned and thank God this parent did not carry out the threat. But what could we have done to protect those children and all the rest in the 20 minutes before authorites arrived?
Please dismiss the notion that concealed gun permits are related to cowboy westerns where one would "strap on" a weapon. If I were allowed to carry a weapon on school property it would be locked in my cabinet along with my purse. It should also be clarified that according to articles I have read on the school district allowing this practice, the teachers must take training in crisis management negotiation, weapon safety, and must be authorized by the school board. I would think that they would authorize only level headed, long time faculty members for this extreme responsibility. I suppose that what I want to say most is that one should not judge others until you have walked in their shoes.

Kate Kellen said...

Anonymous,

It sounds like you have had a terrifying life experience that I am so grateful to say I have not had. I'm so saddened to hear of it, and I get your point.

Thanks for reading,
Kate