On February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old man murdered seventeen people at a Florida high school.
Numerous politicians and school administrators immediately proposed that in order to deal with future school shootings, classroom teachers should be armed.
The press and social media picked up on this ridiculous proposal and ran with it, as if it were a rational suggestion that deserves serious discussion.
Arm classroom teachers so that the next time a disaffected young man storms a school with an automatic weapon, teachers can drop their books, grab their sidearms and kill that sucker.
This insane response is just one more illustration of the absolutely chaotic conception of the classroom teacher’s function that exists in the national mind.
On one hand, classroom teachers (as opposed to coaches and administrators) are seen as the archetype of the Mother. In addition to transmitting skills and knowledge, they are expected to be all-loving, all-nurturing, all-forgiving, and able to kiss away any type of boo-boo.
On the other hand, if they unionize or strike for better working conditions, they are greedy money-grubbers who don’t care about children.
If they insist on the efficacy of homework, they are purveyors of busy work and enemies of student relaxation.
If children fail to achieve proficiency on standardized tests of doubtful value, it’s the teacher’s fault and they deserve to be punished.
Here are some typical comments made about teachers by parents and public school critics:
“…while [children] are in your classroom, you are indeed expected to give each child the love and support and educational opportunities you would if they were your biological child.”
“I refuse to help my child with her homework because I refuse to do the teacher’s job.”
“A teacher’s job is exactly to [educate] a child 25 times over or 35 times over. Every child has the right to receive an education on as close as possible to an individual level. The best teachers find ways to use force multipliers on their time so that it is maximized to meet the needs of the children. It is absolutely why they are hired, because teachers are educated to be experts in finding how to instruct any child.”
“Teachers should be willing to stay after school to tutor my child because I can’t afford to pay for private tutoring.”
Teachers are expected to stand lunch duty, hall duty, bathroom duty, and bus duty. They’re expected to provide “make up work” for students who miss class for whatever reason, and provide alternative assignments for children whose parents object to the choice of a book chosen for class study.
Teachers buy classroom supplies the school won’t pay for. They pick up trash. They take courses to keep their credentials current, manage copious student records, prepare lessons, grade written assignments, and provide individual lessons for mainstreamed students diagnosed with learning disabilities. Some teachers even help physically disabled children with bodily functions.
Can you think of any other profession or occupation—other than that of wife and mother— that makes such all-encompassing and selfless demands on its practitioners?
Now the job of armed security officer is being laid on their shoulders as well.
Isn’t it time to relinquish the popular image of Teacher-as-Mother/Dog’s Body/Scapegoat?
The job of a teacher is to teach a subject. Ideally, a teacher will receive instruction not only in the academic content to be taught, but also in techniques for teaching it.
Teachers can be expected to be patient and helpful to all the students who come to them. They cannot reasonably be expected to make up for the abusive or emotionally deprived childhoods that have shaped some of their students.
In short, contrary to the views of some, teachers cannot be expected “to give each child the love and support and educational opportunities you would if they were your biological child.”
And they certainly should not be expected to take a bullet for them.
Most people who are drawn to the teaching profession are altruistic. They want to spend their professional lives helping others. They are the least likely people who would want to shoot to kill any human being, let alone one they might have had as a student.
This latest school shooter did not burst onto the scene without warning. An ABC article lists at least a dozen times that his potentially lethal behavior was reported to various authorities and allowed to pass without intervention.
To suggest arming teachers is to accept future school shootings as inevitable.
Wouldn’t it be preferable to require state legislators to do something practical to prevent children from growing up to want to kill their teachers and classmates?
Universal early education programs would be a good start.
If the public high school has become a place to minister to all the needs of a dysfunctional society, then it needs to be staffed by specialists in addition to classroom teachers. It needs on-site psychologists, criminologists, nutritionists, and social workers.
I think that a teacher’s job is to teach specific knowledge and skills and to nurture a love of learning and high ideals.
In a civilized society, it is the legislator’s job to ensure that schools are among the safest places in that society.