Teaching in a Culture of Fear

The day after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School my students and I journaled about how this news story made us feel. I suspect many other classes across the nation did as well. The overwhelming majority of my 8th graders stated that they were of course upset by the shooting, but not at all surprised that it happened. Period after period students asked, “Haven’t there been like 18 shootings this year?” They had read the facts and seen the snaps and frankly knew more about the events than most adults I had spoken with that day.

Through this writing and discussion, I expected to guide my students through their grief and fear like I had tried to do with so many other personal, local, and national tragedies in the past. However, this time something had changed.

I stood in front of my class looking at their faces and realized that while I knew I was, without a doubt, willing to give up my life to protect any of them, in reality, I had very little chance of actually doing so. The question staggered me: What is this 5 foot tall person going to do in the face of an assault rifle? Even more devastating than this personal realization was the fact that this hard truth was already obvious to my students.

In their writing they explained to me that while they appreciated the efforts of the adults around them, they believed, in their core, that no adult could actually keep them safe. Not their teachers or even their parents. True they see violence in movies and television, but also on the Newsfeed and in their everyday lives.

I think we all agree that something has to be done. As a teacher and a parent, I can no longer help raise a generation of kids who don’t feel a basic sense of safety at school. I feel I have the responsibility to speak up for my students and coworkers when I say we must come together and act. While I believe we need to take measures to protect our students, I also believe that arming teachers is not the answer.

Teachers should not have guns on campus because:

  1. We are role models – Everything a teacher does leaves an impression on his or her students. If I wear my hair in a bun for three days, girls start wearing buns to school. Many of the ways we affect students character is through the ways we model behavior. If I am inspired or sarcastic, that feeling spreads to my student and through the hallways. A favorite teacher carrying a gun (even if concealed) sets a powerful example for students. In my school we are actively trying to convince students to use tools such as knowledge, understanding, and communication instead of resorting to violence when they are afraid or threatened. It may be hard for students to truly consider these conversations while their teachers wear guns to feel safe.
  2. It’s a waste of resources – I work in a district that tries hard to provide for teachers, but there are always programs that get cut. I can’t imagine a school that feels fully funded. We cannot afford to throw money at gun companies out of fear. As someone who asks for school supplies from family members for Christmas and sponsors clubs out of her own pocket the idea of spending school money on guns is insulting. Arm me with the tools to reach and meet the needs of every student instead.
  3. It’s a logistical nightmare – The first time I heard the idea to arm teachers I literally laughed out loud. If there is one thing all teachers have in common, from Pre-K to AP English, public or private school, it’s that our days are unpredictable. We never know what will happen in the course of a school day. Will teachers be wearing these guns when they sit on the reading rug? When they break up a fight in the hallway? When they go outside to bus duty and encounter an angry parent? Will they wear them to the dance and on the field trip? Coaching track and presenting diplomas at graduation? The day of a teacher is so much more complex than anyone on the outside can realize. Trust me when I say we cannot simply strap on a gun every morning and go on with our day. I shudder to think of the mishaps and even tragedies that could befall us in these situations.
  4. They will negatively affect the learning environment: The most upsetting trend I fear will come out of guns on teachers is a disruption to the learning environment. Like many teachers, I work very hard to create a calm, safe, and accepting environment in which for students to learn. I aim to lower the affective filter so that students can share their lives and grow in their love of books and literacy. Many students have encountered violence in their lives prior to walking into my classroom and can identify a firearm even when concealed. They could be triggered by the presence of a gun or at the very least shut down in the presence of a silent enforcer.

To the people suggesting putting guns in the classroom: I understand the fear and love behind your suggestion. I too feel the intense need to protect the children in my life. I have friends and family members who own guns and am surrounded by responsible gun owners. While I choose not to have guns myself, I don’t presume to know what is best for every person in their home. But as a teacher, this classroom is as much my home as any other so I hope you’ll give me the respect to at least consider the ideas I’ve expressed above. I know that the bills proposed will not force me to personally carry a gun, but a school is a collaborative place. We are in and out of each other’s rooms and common spaces, so a gun in one room is a gun in every room. We owe it to our kids to act, but we also owe it to them to exhaust all non-violent options before drastically changing the landscape of our schools and succumbing to a culture of violence.

Abby Ramos Stanutz


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