COMMENTARY: I am a minimally effective teacher, at least according to the State of New Mexico. If you listen to Secretary DeVos or even our acting secretary of education for the state of New Mexico, those of us who teach at traditional public schools are lazy and uninspired. We only are there for the short days and the summers off and we put our needs far before the needs of our students.
But somehow, for some reason, when tragedies like the Parkland or Newtown or Columbine happen, no one is surprised to hear of teachers and coaches and janitors and other school employees risking and sometimes giving their lives for their students, for their kids. Those same self-serving teachers somehow transform into self-sacrificing heroes. We honor them and their courage.
And then, almost inevitably, it turns back to those teachers and schools to not only continue with their purpose of educating every kid who walks through their doors but now to deal with the aftermath of a massacre and to try to prevent the next one.
What are schools and teachers supposed to be doing?
- Increasing the physical security of their buildings. Great! But where’s the money coming for that? Are people ready to have their property taxes go up? Schools will have make choices. Let’s get a new fence at my school rather than replace the worn out desks. The kids may get scratched on the rough edges, but we will have our barricade. What else are we willing to give up? New playground equipment? Replacing outdated buildings? Up-to-date technology?
- More security guards. Who are they replacing, since no one wants to increase funding for schools. Teachers? Educational assistants? Most of my classes are already bigger than what is safe for teaching science. I know English teachers with close to 200 total students; imagine trying to grade essays with that number of students.
- How about cops? I have known some great school resource officers. But the reality is the presence of police on school campuses greatly increases the likelihood of a school discipline problem becoming a juvenile justice problem. And kids who end up in the juvenile justice system are much more likely to become adults in the justice system.
- Teachers (or administrators) should be armed. Nope. No way. There are a lot of problems with this, but the biggest is that there is a world of difference between knowing how to shoot and knowing when to shoot. Even the police get it wrong (Tamir Rice, for example) and they are trained for these situations. As a parent I would be concerned if I knew staff members had weapons without a very clear policy on training and storage.
- Increase psychological support for students. Most of us would love that. But it is hard to connect to all of the students in a 30-person class that I see for 82 minutes every other day. We have some mental health support within the school, and our school benefits from having a school-based heath center that includes mental health professionals. New Mexico law allows adolescents to get mental health support without having to immediately notify the parents. We could do more of this. But to claim that all school shooters are mentally ill or that those students who struggle with mental illness are a threat is dangerous. And the reality is that plenty of countries have the same issues with mental health — without the number of mass shootings. The interventions, both mental health and disciplinary, for the shooter in Florida began in middle school, and yet were inadequate to prevent him from returning to the school with a weapon.
Then what should we do? Perhaps teachers and school administrators should not be the only ones bearing the weight of protecting our children (and others) from mass shootings. Here are some ideas of what the other grown-ups could be doing:
- Allowing the CDC to investigate gun violence. This has not been funded for two decades. Having good data informs good decisions.
- Five states have laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition the courts to confiscate firearms from individuals who are seen as threats to themselves or others. A law like this in Florida might have prevented this tragedy.
- Bring back, in some form, the so-called assault weapons ban. Important caveat: Handguns are the weapon in most cases of gun violence. However, during the assault weapons ban (1994-2004) the number of gun massacres (defined by Louis Klarevas in his book Rampage Nation as six or more people shot and killed in a single incident) dropped by 37 percent compared with the prior 10 years, and deaths during those massacres dropped by 43 percent. When the assault ban was repealed, the following 10 years saw a jump of 183 percent in massacres and 239 percent in deaths. The assault weapons ban may not have decreased overall violent crime, but could be, in some form, a way of decreasing the likelihood of another school shooting tragedy.
- There are other gun control measures that have been shown to be effective, including permit-to-purchase, that should be part of any discussion. These would decrease not just the chances of another mass killing like in Parkland, but all gun deaths.
- To go back to the first point for schools: Many schools, especially those built pre-Columbine, were not built with security in mind. To make them secure is often cost-prohibitive for districts. The reality is that about 90 percent of all American students attend traditional public schools. If we are truly serious about infrastructure investment at the federal level, we need to include schools in discussion.
I’m tired of kids dying. I don’t want to have to be a hero. I really don’t want one of my colleagues to be a hero to protect my children. I know, however, that those amazing teachers, and educational assistants, and librarians, and coaches, and administrators, and security guards, and janitors, and secretaries in Las Cruces Public Schools would do what they could to make sure that my kids, both the three that live in my house and all those who have passed through my classroom, would be safe.
So to all of the other adults out there: We in the schools are working every day to teach these cool, often amazing, sometime annoying, too often sad, quite often funny children who pass through our classrooms, despite inadequate funding, ever changing expectations, and nearly constant criticism from people who have never even subbed in a K-12 classroom. Now it is your time.
We only want your thoughts and prayers if your thoughts are of how to make our schools safer and your prayers are for doing what is right. We want you to act like the rights of first graders and high schoolers — and, yes, ordinary public school teachers — to be able to live full lives is as important as the right to own a gun.
I don’t know under what domain risking my life for my students would fall in my evaluation. But we all will be evaluated as ineffective if we do not finally act to prevent another tragedy.
Erin Taylor is the science department lead at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, where she resides with her husband and three kids. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Las Cruces Public School District. Agree with her opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.