Yesterday, when I picked my 6.5 year old twins up from school, my daughter told me that they had not one but two fire drills. My first reaction should have been either: curiosity as to why there were two, or a sense of relief that their school is working to train our kids on how to navigate emergency situations safely. But it wasn’t either one of those things. Instead, my first reaction was to attempt to hide from my daughter how terrified the thought of her and her brother and the rest of the students at their school walking openly out onto the field made me. In the wake of Parkland, and Sandy Hook, and even an elementary school in our own school district, my first reaction to what should have been a routine evacuation drill was fear and terror that, what is meant to keep my kids safe, could ultimately make them vulnerable to the sort of danger that no parent that sends their children to school should ever have to feel.
I’m a high school English teacher and, most importantly, a mom. This past week and a half has been a whirlwind of emotions for so many of us. As a mom, I grow increasingly more anxious about the society our children are growing up in. I question my decision to bring children into this world, since it seems to be getting uglier, more divided, and more dangerous by the day. I do everything I can to instill in them the values of kindness and love in the hopes that these values will arm them with the tools they need to cope with difficult situations. But kindness and love won’t arm them against a troubled person with a gun.
It’s still hard for me to believe that Parkland happened. It’s inconceivable to me that this Just. Keeps. Happening. And no one is doing anything about it. At least not the people who should be. Since Parkland, I’ve read every article, watched every report. At first I tried to grapple with how something that should not be political in any way is so deeply politicized. I’ve read “both sides” and tried to understand how anyone can still argue in favor of weapons of mass destruction being so readily available to anyone who can pass a background check. And then I listened to the man, who has claimed time and time again that he is the one to fix all of the American people’s problems, suggest that the most plausible solution to these repeated acts of terror is to arm teachers.
Look, I love my job. Being a teacher is my life’s calling. I get to show up to work everyday and work alongside kids whose hearts, souls, and brains are growing and developing in remarkable ways. I became a teacher for this very reason. But never in my process of joining this honorable profession did I think I’d be in a situation where the suggestion of carrying a firearm would become an actual thing that sounded like a good idea.
Seriously, how did we get here? Can we all just stop for a minute and recognize that this is not ok? We have become so used to the chaos and so inundated by violence and ludicrous policy proposals that it’s as if we’ve completely lost touch with reality. Are we honestly suggesting that the best way to keep our kids safe at school is for teachers to carry loaded weapons? Consider the chaos of a school campus in an active shooter situation: there are students running in all directions in a panic. And somehow a teacher is supposed to become a sharpshooter and hit the one bad guy in the midst of this? There are military personnel and police officers who have spent their whole lives training for moments like this that couldn’t deliver on that sensational ask.
I’ve never fired a gun in my life. I’ve never even held one. Nor would I want to. No, not even if you paid me. So clearly, I wouldn’t be one of the “twenty percent” of teachers on campuses trained as “marshals” on my campus (the number so arbitrarily thrown out there by the clueless person running this country). But I’m supposed to trust that whoever is deemed “capable” of carrying this incredible responsibility can do so effectively? What sort of training will they be expected to go through? What happens if they turn out to be the bad guy? The list goes on, and the what-ifs associated with a proposal like this one far outweigh any argument in its favor. We are teachers, not action heroes. We have already been tasked with the enormous responsibility of educating this nation’s children, do not also ask us to become their bodyguards in the name of the 2nd Amendment. Should I be prepared to die for someone else’s children at the cost of not being able to come home to my own? Should I expect the same of my children’s elementary school teachers?
This isn’t ok. None of this is ok. The NRA rhetoric (and the regurgitation of it by the President) may be compelling enough to convince its followers that this is the best solution, but to those of us on the frontlines, the ones standing on school campuses nationwide, this is not a solution but a guaranteed way to exacerbate the problem. Perhaps the first step in coming up with an actual, plausible solution to keep American schools safe is to stop the NRA from buying politicians.
And then there’s the painfully obvious. All of this talk of arming teachers without even addressing the current shortcomings of our education system. Everyday we teach to overcrowded classrooms, buy our own supplies, and watch students in dire need of mental and emotional health support fall through the cracks. But somehow, this same system will suddenly find means to incur the costs of arming (underpaid) educators.
Do I have the answer? No, I do not. Are there teachers out there who may disagree with me and enthusiastically volunteer to be armed? Perhaps. But of this much I am certain: the day guns become a mainstay on school campuses is the day we have failed our children in the most irreparable way.
The greatest lesson I have learned as a teacher is that children are wise beyond measure, and that if we step out of their way and give them an opportunity to be heard we will all be better for it. The brave survivors from Stoneman Douglas High School have shown us exactly this in the aftermath of the horror they have faced. Their experience is one that only a small but, sadly, growing population can speak to. No one, not even the President, can disregard their experience and their call to action. It’s time for action. But arming teachers isn’t it.
I am so thankful to have another teacher willing to share her concerns from the literal front lines of one of the most common target for terrorists in the US. It makes me sad that in both cases these amazing teachers felt they needed to speak anonymously. If you would like to read another teacher’s take, please check out Arming Teachers. They both worried their job was at stake if they spoke out, but my hope is these will be shared and keep the conversation going. Shame on whoever makes a teacher feel they can’t speak out about their school being a war zone.
I remember explaining to my first kindergartner how to be very still if there is ever a bad guy with a gun; how to play dead. I remember dropping her off at school after Sandy Hook and the anxiety that welled up inside me that I know was not unique. I remember people fighting on Facebook and news outlets. Cries that it was ‘too soon’ to talk about gun safety laws and that it exploited those babies that died. I remember praying that change would come and it has only gotten worse. My tiny kindergartner is now a sixth grader, and I am still reminding her and her siblings how to play dead. I am terrified.
Everytown for Gun Safety has excellent information for those who have had enough of this insanity. I think it is important for us to listen to our teachers and listen to our students. Clear your calendars for March for our Lives on March 24th.