My Thoughts on Guns as a Teacher

Ok, ex-teacher, but still, the experience counts in this.

I was a teacher at a school where 95% of the students were on free or reduced lunch. My students were usually very poor and often living with 3 or 4 other families in a single family home. Maybe they didn’t have access to running water or have an oven big enough to hold donated turkeys (this actually was an issue at a neighboring high school: people donated turkeys so their students could celebrate Thanksgiving, but so many people returned them because they had nowhere to cook them that they’ve not done a donation like that since). This school was not an anomaly in this city, of the six high schools there, at least four were full of students like this, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all six were.  I’m telling you this for a reason, promise.

Gangs and taggers were issues, sure, but not usually for ME. They were much more of an issue for my students and I hated the time change when it started getting dark at four because my students had to walk home in the dark (no one drove, very few families could afford to have a car for their kid to drive). Schools are actually considered no fight zones (for the most part) for kids in gangs: they don’t want to attract attention or get identified as a gang member. So, schools are pretty neutral when it comes to gang members and most of the students I had that I knew were probably gang members were some of my most polite and well-behaved kids. There was one exception to this rule, but all he gave me was attitude. Oh, man, so much attitude.

Now, guns were PROBABLY on campus. I went to a seminar on taggers once where they showed us a picture of the typical tagger’s backpack: all that was in it was a can of spray paint and a gun. That was pretty freaky, I won’t lie. However, I never felt in any danger. The kids don’t WANT to be caught after all, so most of their illicit and illegal activities happened off campus. In fact, looking at the record of school shootings, I was probably safer working there than at a school in a more affluent area.

That being said, it was something I was ALWAYS aware of. I taught freshman, 14-15 year old kids, some of whom had been in school since kindergarten but had a second grade reading level (the effect of poverty on education is a whole other blog post). They were GREAT kids and I loved teaching them. And I would, totally and absolutely, have stood in front of an active shooter in order to save their lives.

It’s crazy to me that I even had to think of doing that, but I did. We practiced lock down drills and I obediently locked the door and we sat in silence until the all clear came over the PA system. The truth was though, I was in a portable classroom with walls like cardboard and sometimes with 40 students in it. There was no where for them to hide, no closet big enough for 40 teenagers, no walls thick enough to stop bullets. I would worry, what if it DID happen? What would I do? I would always, in my plannings, step in front of a gun for them because I knew that if a gunman managed to gain entry into my room, I was the last line of defense.

The last line of defense. Me. An English teacher. Not a cop or fireman. A teacher. This shouldn’t be part of my job description. No, I don’t want to be armed and have a gun in my desk in case of an emergency. I don’t want to train to take down a person SHOOTING AT PEOPLE. I want to teach literature and grammar and be a teacher. And yet, people are, instead of passing laws making it harder for certain people to buy certain guns, advocating for arming teachers. ARMING TEACHERS. That’s….that’s insanity. That is not solving anything. That is adding to the problem and creating even more of a gun culture in a country whose gun culture is out of control.

And yet…if I were still there teaching in that classroom and knew that I was the ONLY thing between my students and a gunman,  I’d probably want a weapon. Because my job is to protect those students, those are MY KIDS, and I would kill someone before letting them get hurt just as I would rather die than they get hurt. Teachers shouldn’t have to make that choice. It’s not their job. Except in the United States, it is.

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