CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'm sure you've heard from teachers about a shortage of funding, outrageous class sizes to manage and a true lack of competitive salary, but I wanted to bring attention to the general wellbeing of teachers and the idea of "safe" schools.
In a recent BBC news article, journalists discussed school safety: "Once upon a time, the term lockdown was associated with prisons." Now, however, it's part of our education vernacular.
"What is it teaching our kids?" the story asks. "We routinely terrify and traumatize them in an effort to spare our kids terror and trauma. We create realistic drills ... we just make a decision to treat armed killers in schools as we previously treated fires and tornadoes: as acts of God..."
Now, school was always a safe place for me. Even though I didn't truly feel academically successful until college, I had teachers who saw my talents and guided me to succeed by supporting my strengths.
I really struggled with my classes, but I was safe.
When I watched the news of Columbine unfold I was a college student. I remember a classmate saying, "No one should be wastin' a bullet unless there's an 8-point in the field in front of 'em!" As some chuckled and nodded, the professor turned the TV coverage off and just said, "Thank goodness we don't have to worry about ignorance like that around here!"
During the school year I earned a master's degree to teach literature and writing, and during my summers I taught shooting sports. The research for our summer program supported the idea that children who had never held guns or bows were the ones getting into trouble and having accidents. On the other hand, those children who were trained and understood the logic, uses and safety behind weaponry became responsible users. Just as I try to guide students to practice good character and citizenship in my classroom, I also guided in the same manner on a shooting range.
Especially in the wake of the catastrophes of recent years, I'm left with a helpless, gut-punched, realization that no matter how supportive, positive and constructive I am in my attempt to share a love of language arts -- I now have to carry myself every day with the courage and agility of a firefighter, the intelligence and boldness of a police officer, and the toughness of a grief counselor. Every. Day.
Those are not the professions I chose. I didn't have a single class about understanding student revenge or teaching through terror.
I work in one of the most pro-active county school systems in the state. We have safety committees, PRO officers, and good community and school partnerships. As educators, we're responsible for reporting anything that indicates that a child isn't safe -- whether that is peer bullying, hazardous living conditions or signs of violence and detachment. Fellow educators and I have been trained to see the signs, sworn to be active reporters and feel confident in our abilities to do so. However, as I've heard discussions from my colleagues across the state veer away from those types of conversations to those that involve the many facets of gun control, my concern grows.
Teachers across the nation are beginning to hold back from disciplining students and won't even report things that may affect classroom instruction every day because they don't want a kid to "come and shoot 'em up." I've heard of students who have alarming reactions, from hysterics to being completely lethargic, during emergency drills of all kinds.