Students and Teachers Deserve a Fear-Free Environment
March 20, 2018
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Stacy Jones

Following the recently publicized fatal school shooting in Parkland, Florida, most major media outlets—including CBS, NBC, and ABC—reported the number of school shootings to date this year as 18. That number was derived from Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group, co-founded by Michael Bloomberg.

Conversely, the figure takes into account every school gun “incident,” or, by definition, “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds,” and not exclusively the sort of horrific violence that occurred in Parkland. No need to inflate the number, though. A more accurate number might stand around eight—if one considers incidents where innocent victims were wounded or fatally shot. This number still remains too high. The number we should be seeking is an easy one: zero.

Generally, I don’t seek out public political polemic. However, this debate, to me, as a teacher at both the secondary and post-secondary levels for over a decade, is not merely political; it is extremely personal. It involves both my livelihood and my well-being.

Much debate has been bantered about, ranging from various levels of gun control to improved mental health services to increased attention at various levels for troublesome behavior to greater parental involvement. This week I have witnessed multiple social media posters offer solutions as if there’s only one possible answer, as if some solutions are mutually exclusive of each other. For instance, some will decry any form of gun control, declaring the problem must exclusively reside in the lack of availability of, say, mental health services.

I am not certain of one surefire, simple answer. In fact, I posit that the whole system is broken in our country.  Guns are too easily accessible in America—especially AR-15-style assault rifles such as the one Nikolas Cruz used to gun down 17 students and teachers in Florida. Perhaps the situation may have gotten too out of hand to take the action authorities in Brisbane, Scotland took after a March 1996 shooting that prompted public outrage, followed by the banning of handguns in the UK. Since that time, there has not been a mass shooting using handguns.

While we may be unwilling to compromise on gun laws, I do find it disheartening that our society has become so dead-set on encouraging a “freedom” at all costs that we are so willing to sacrifice people’s lives for the sake of that freedom. Is a weekend hobby worth the life of even one child?

Some offer the solution that we arm teachers, in addition to installing metal detectors to create airport-style security in our schools. Sometimes this suggestion is made by teachers, but, often, it is tendered by the general public, none of whom have any direct experience in classroom instruction or interaction with students in an educational environment. It was suggested by the President.

Yet, when we talk of putting the onus on teachers and installing metal detectors, we are treating the symptoms of this problem and not the cause. This entire notion of “protecting” our schools smacks of some dysfunctional, dystopian society somehow mired in the much too obsolete modus operandi of the Wild West. It instills and reinforces an atmosphere of fear. This is not the environment in which I wish to work.

Imagine if every single day that you went to work, you had to wonder if this were the day. Might you be shot sometime while at work? Might you have to protect a room full of children from bullets? Might you go to work one day and never come home? Think about it. Try it for at least one week each day as you get into your car to drive to your place of employment.

Then remember always to be on alert at work, no matter what other task may be at hand. Don’t forget to keep the door of the room where you work each day closed and locked, and pay attention to everything in your surroundings at every instance because at any moment a threat might arise. I am sure those in Parkland thought it would never happen to them—but it did. That is the environment into which we are now sending our children daily, as well as requiring of those who have taken on the challenge of educating young minds.

So what might be an answer? I think there are several approaches, numerous possibilities—and any strategy will take time to implement—whether it includes more background checks for guns, the elimination of weapons intended for assault, the addition of security resource officers in schools, more attention to mental health services, or avoiding escalating the incident into a media spectacle. Despite a lack of immediate answers, the Parkland, Florida school shooting has certainly accomplished one result: it has seemingly opened up the widest debate we have had about the epidemic of gun violence in our society in a while.

As a teacher, I remain firmly affixed to the belief that arming educators is not the answer. Unless a person is immersed in specialized training—still with room for error—the potential to make a fatal mistake when adrenaline is running high under duress is too great. What would be the response if we opted to allow teachers in America to be armed, an active shooter entered a school, and a teacher inadvertently shot a student? Imagine that evening news story. Suddenly some of us wouldn’t be so gung-ho.

Stacy has taught English at McNairy Central High School for the last nine years, while also teaching evening classes in composition, literature and poetry at the Selmer satellite campus of The University of Tennessee at Martin. Previously, she was a lecturer in English at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She served as a cohort among the second group of SCORE fellows from 2015-2016, contracted for two years as a Core Coach for the Tennessee Department of Education and currently works as a content reviewer for the 9-11 grade English Language Arts TNReady assessment. She writes a weekly column for The Daily Corinthian in Corinth, Mississippi. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from The University of Tennessee Memphis and a Master of Arts degree in English with a concentration in poetry writing from The University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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