Teachers Sound Off On Guns In The Classroom

I interviewed eight educators to learn their thoughts on the idea of being armed as part of their job. Their responses are eye-opening.
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In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Donald Trump offered one solution to the gun problem in America -- and it’s to give out more guns … to teachers. Trump believes that arming teachers will prevent yet another mass shooting in our schools because they will be able to act swiftly to take down the shooter. It's unclear if teachers will be armed with AR-15s or just an ordinary handgun, which really won't stand a chance against an assault rifle. 

First, Trump felt 20 percent of teachers should be armed, then mentioned 40 percent with those who carry getting a “bit of a bonus.” 

His thoughts are in the right place -- he wants to end school shootings and we all can agree on that. But we cannot agree on the way to do that. Because it would be difficult for Trump to rely on Betsy DeVos, our Secretary of Education who came to the job with zero education experience, we must instead look to the teachers of today for insight. I interviewed eight educators to learn their thoughts on the idea of being armed as part of their job. Their responses are eye-opening.

Bianca Tanis:

It’s truly mind boggling that anyone could believe that arming educators is a more more viable solution than enacting common sense gun control. But it’s not surprising that such a ludicrous suggestion would come from Donald Trump.

Look at what this man has done to public schools since taking office -- many of our students and their families do not feel safe because of his hateful rhetoric and racist immigration policies. He proposed a nine billion dollar cut to public education spending, which would eliminate many of the programs that support students in crisis, and he brought us Betsy DeVos -- a public education dismantler who continues to slash protections for the most vulnerable students. So it’s not shocking that he would suggest this, but it is insane.

Donald Trump will not ensure that ALL children in this country have access to clean, well-resourced schools with adequate supports and highly trained teachers. He wants to cut teacher training and student loan forgiveness programs, but wants to pay teachers a stipend to carry a deadly weapon? Around children? This transcends politics … it’s madness.

There is so much that could and will go wrong if we begin arming teachers. The majority of us oppose this and hundreds of thousands of teachers would walk away from the profession if this were to happen. I would. Most states are already experiencing a teacher shortage. Who will be left to teach our children? Teachers in this country are already wearing a million different hats -- teacher, social worker, advocate, etc. Every year we have more and more students who are dealing with trauma and adversity and as the needs of our students change we adapt; we educate ourselves on how to meet their changing needs, we become experts in yet another area. Asking teachers to also play the role of armed guard is going too far.

Someone I know suggested that perhaps this is just another strategy for dismantling public education. Maybe it is. Because once you put the NRA and the needs of broken politicians and powerful gun-obsessed white men ahead of the lives of students and the safety of our schools, it’s really game over.

But I don’t think that is going to happen because all around the country students are using their voices to demand change and they are calling out the hypocrisy and the bullshit. They are not having it and they are a force. As long as we continue to support these students and as long as teachers, parents, and and communities also come together to demand change, I think we will see movement in the right direction. We have to.

Anonymous teacher:

I have a Masters degree in early childhood literacy and 16 years of experience teaching small children how to interact, work together, problem solve, and how to be part of a community. In that 16 years, I have had my own two children, one of whom has entered the public schools and the other is about to start. In that 16 years, I have continuously learned about myself, my students, and how to improve my practice. We talk about safety, we practice safety drills. In my classroom I tell my precious 4- and 5-year-olds when we have a lockdown drill that it is just another way we practice staying safe. I hate that some of my children know the exact reason why we practice these drills. In the past 16 years, I've seen class size increase, I've seen a tax cap been implemented, I've seen supply budgets go down, and I've seen districts try to decide which programs to cut in order to stay within their means. And you know what’s scary? I am in a good district. One of my first thoughts when I heard of this ludicrous plan to arm teachers was and who is going to pay for this? What part of our kids education will suffer? What programs will be cut?

Let's talk about safety though really, how safe is it to have a teacher armed in a Kindergarten class where children are crawling on their teacher during circle time or running up to them and giving them an unexpected gigantic hug. Guns in school are the worst possible idea I have ever heard of. Arm me with the supports I need to meet the needs of my students, arm my colleagues with food for when their kids are hungry, supplies for art, lower class sizes. I stand by the youth who are beginning to rise up and take on the government and the NRA because they must. And we must support them, we must stand by these kids and stand up for what is right.

A school is a safe place where children are loved so they can learn. There is no place for guns in school. If I am told that I can choose to or that my colleagues can carry a weapon in my school, I can not stay in the profession I love and can also no longer allow my children to attend school. But maybe that is exactly what this administration wants, to entirely dismantle public education for all who need it the most.

Amy Barresi:

I teach Global 9 at a Hudson Valley High School. My issues with the idea of allowing or giving teachers bonuses to conceal carry are varied. I am not anti gun, in fact my father, uncles, husband, and likely myself in the future own them. My issues are: 1) What happens with liability? Say something does happen and a armed teacher does his or her best to protect students and staff by taking down the shooter, will the shooter's family sue? The shooter themselves sue if they are injured? What if innocent bystanders are hurt by friendly fire? 2) How can we have money for "small bonuses" for teachers who are willing to learn to handle guns but we teach in school without enough books, supplies, or arts programs let alone after school activities? How will teachers be trained? Will each one have to seek out a approved training program? 3) In a active shooter situation, our first responsibility is to protect our students and get them away from the shooter. How will protocol be changed to account for a new "security force inside the school?" Will I have to leave my students alone? Somehow get them to another teacher’s room before I pursue the shooter? Do I leave them? If I leave them what happens to them if there are multiple shooters? and 4) What will be the outcome the first time a teacher or staff member is shot by law enforcement in a active shooter situation?

Anonymous teacher:

I do not want to be armed. We have three armed security/police in my building and I would leave that to those who are trained. I think many teachers would feel uncomfortable being armed. And NYSUT, The New York Union of Teachers, has already taken a strong stance against this. I think this would hurt the overall educational system. I teach grades 6-8 middle school art. I am there to foster creativity not fuel fear if students think I have a gun. I do not think this tactic promotes safety. At all.

I care about my students. I will always put thier safety before mine. But I have never held a gun. Never owned one. How does a gun in my classroom or on my person help me keep 30 8th graders safer? Especially if it causes discomfort for the teacher and the students.

Daniel Osborne:

Every time I hear Mr. Trump speak, I want to move to another country. I have been an educator for over 10 years and I can without equivocation tell you we do not need armed personnel in our schools. They will end up killing students, teachers, and parents. I have de-escalated many situations without being armed because I could speak to people. The one time I called the school safety/police they handcuffed an 8-year-old. He hadn’t hurt anyone but he destroyed school property. I never felt right about getting officers involved in school situations. I’m really fearful of gun toting people making split second decisions based on misinformation. Kids do crazy, dangerous, and insane things, I have confiscated kitchen knives, pepper spray, and toy guns and I fear that if we start arming people accidents will happen. As far as I can tell, this country is not a police state. Instead of getting rid of guns we are asking for a proliferation of armed people. Stop the madness!

Tara Embler Montague:

When I decided to become a teacher of words, it was always in the back of my head to teach students how to wield them well, and wield them for what is good and what is right. Words are also weapons, and of course, they need to learn that as well. That’s about as violent as I get.

When the idea came up after Newtown that perhaps teachers should carry guns, it was so absurd an idea, I didn’t even think twice about it. What good can come from more guns, brandished by people who “didn’t sign up for that”? After the most recent school shooting when the powers that be (help us all) seem to be taking a liking to this idea, no doubt because it’s more money in the coffers and just another way to get the NRA paid (who will be running the training for all these teachers at a very high cost to the state/federal government -- one guess), I started to really fear that someone might decide to require me to shoot a gun, something I have never had a desire to do, nor will I ever.

First of all, I have absolutely no cool when it comes to murderous weaponry. I can shoot a mean bow and arrow into a hay target, but wouldn’t dream of doing such to a person. I’m glad to be protected by people who can live with themselves after they have done something it is not in me to do. I could not live with myself if I ever took another person’s life, let alone the life of a child (as has been the case with many of the shooters). Could I look a former student in the eye and kill him or her should that be the case of the shooter? And what if I miss? What if he or she moves at just the right moment, and the gun in my hand takes the life of an innocent?

What if a child in the classroom gets to the gun (somehow) because no one has said where they would be kept, stored, etc. Who is liable there? 

Children make mistakes. They break the rules. A gun in a classroom is another rule to be broken. Is it an invitation/challenge/temptation for a kid to “get the teacher’s gun”? Kids have died when their parents haven’t locked guns up. What happens in a school stocked with them? And has any one of these people even been in professional development for teachers? We belabor EVERYTHING to make sure we’re doing it right. The amount of time, money and energy it would cost to train teachers for combat would be nightmarish, and end in certain tragedy. There is no good that can come from more guns. There is no good that can come from putting guns into the hands of the unwilling.

Every statistic that I have looked at has shown that as the number of guns in this country rises, so does the number of gun deaths. I am completely not willing to be another part of that. Does this make me weak? I honestly don’t care. You already ask me to put myself in the line of fire as a teacher, and I do that because it is my job to keep the children safe. You cannot make it my job to kill at the same time, and the day someone does is the day I will give up this noble profession and retire to a place where this kind of logic isn’t a part of the ruling government.

Amanda O’Neill:

I am a mother of three and I’ve have been a teacher for just under 20 years. I have taught at all three levels; I’ve taught in rural, suburban, and urban school districts. I have actively been shooting weapons of all kinds since the age of nine. I am the proud daughter of a Command Sergeant Major, retired, out of the United States Army. He raised me with the knowledge and appreciation of the importance of gun safety. With all that said, there are many things that need to be done to ensure safety in schools and putting guns into teacher’s hands are by far not one of them. Through what appears to be quite a lot of money in contributions to Trump, from the NRA, his only solution must be more guns. It is not a time for political monetary advancements. It is a time to be more concerned with the safety and well-being of innocent lives in this nation. I myself will never be willing to carry a firearm in school, though I have the training to do so.

Michelle Shivani:

Having taught in Title 1 Schools for most of my career, I thought it was a joke. I thought perhaps the President and those wanting teachers to be armed were being satirical. To work in a school where I funded basic essentials like pencils and erasers, where some students’ only meals were the ones served in schools, to hear legislators and schools boards yearly tell teachers and their unions there are little or no funds and this suggestion of arming teachers was simply laughable. I question how many people thought carefully about it. I wrote a long piece about what a drill is like for myself as a teacher in an inclusion class and when I was in a special ed class. The attentional demands are exhausting to say the least.

Those seeking to arm me, have no idea what they are asking. I wonder whether they understand the cost of a gun and training. I wonder if they understand the mental stress of taking care of 26 kids, unlocking a biometric gun safe and assessing an active shooter situation for someone not trained in combat.

I have friends working in finance whose dream is to get school district contracts because it is guaranteed income. Hearing this scheme makes me think this is simply another income stream for gun manufacturers, ranges and training facilities -- locked in, yearly sales and spending.

Personally it made me feel more under-appreciated than I have felt in the past. It was a reminder of how little people think of teachers and what we do.

These teachers raise fitting concerns -- and we need to listen to them. Trump needs to listen to them. Classrooms do need to be protected, but arming teachers is not the way to do that. It's not the solution and it will only lead to more problems. When there are more guns, there is more death -- that is fact. Plus, it was estimated that we would need $1.077 billion to get teachers guns and proper training. That money should be spent on education and programs to help kids. 

I heard this anecdote the other day. When one kid is terrorizing other kids with a stick on the playground, we take that stick away. We do what we can to make sure that kid doesn't get a stick. We don't hand out sticks to everyone or tell everyone who has a stick to take the kid with the stick down. It's a logic that can be applied with guns. We have to find a way to make sure kids can't get their hands on guns as easily as they have been.

However, Trump just stated that he would have ran into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School during the active shooter situation without a gun to save everyone. Is this him changing his tune? Or thinking he alone can fix everything? Maybe he now thinks being armed with bone spurs is enough. 

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