Friday, October 22, 2021
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The real danger behind arming teachers

I used to teach English to middle schoolers. Once a month, my eighth graders and I spent an hour in “active shooter” drills.

We crouched in a huddle in a corner of the classroom, thinking, If the real thing happens, this is what we’ll do. Sit here and wait.

Missouri law does provide an alternative, but it’s clear that the law wasn’t conceived by educators.

School districts can elect to assign teachers to carry guns. Federal education funds will even pay for the weapons. But carrying a gun prevents teachers from employing their last means of defense against a failing public education system.

The problem guns create in the classroom is so simple it’s no wonder so many non-educators brush the criticism aside.

Why not change the way we teach? Just remove all teaching practices which require instructors to stand next to, crouch beside, and walk among student workspaces, and voila, students get more protection.

If you’re not a teacher, you just don’t know. To teach effectively, you get close to your students. Every minute of every class. And with a gun strapped to your hip, you can’t.

In order to grasp how disastrous it would be to change the way we teach, you first need to understand how our physical proximity to students changes the outcome in a classroom.

In Kansas City, Mo. the disparity between zip codes for quality schools is consistent with the city’s socioeconomic divides. In fact, the Kansas City Public School district hasn’t been able to maintain accreditation since 2011.

And at present, it’s up to individual teachers to make up the difference in a system that’s failing.

My Teach For America coach used to hold rehearsals for me and my fellow corps members. We worked in a school with a population of 97 percent at-risk students. One hundred percent received either free and reduced lunch.

We spent hours debating how we could position our bodies strategically, straining to maximize the effectiveness of each gesture and moment of interaction. We learned how to use texting to engage parents in real-time during the lesson. We taught, handed out notes of encouragement and gave high fives, all while keeping an eye on students in other parts of the classroom.

“Use your eyes to provide support in one place while your body provides support in another,” our coach said.

By using our presence to aid learning and increase student motivation, we learned to single-handedly create the effect of multiple teachers in a classroom of 25 struggling students.

The results were astonishing. Middle school students five years behind in reading comprehension closed the gap just in time for high school grades and scholarship opportunities. And on days we failed, we saw that it was possible to lose all the ground we were gaining as quickly as we’d earned it.

But waging a personal fight against systemic dysfunction takes time–a precious resource for the underpaid and overworked. And that’s without adding guns into the equation.

Teaching to the standard needed to bridge the “education gap” already requires more time and less pay than most jobs (think 12-hour days, five days a week, for $34,000 a year). It takes working late into the night, every night, and taking time away from your own children on the weekends. Plus, there’s no direct financial incentive for public school teachers with higher student performance, which makes personal drive and love for the students the sole motivators.

The few teachers who choose to take on the extra responsibilities needed to fight for educational equality already have a hard sell to teachers who don’t see the worthiness of the sacrifice.

But if lower teaching standards are needed for student safety, there’s yet another reason for teachers to avoid the fight for educational equality for all students.

So what’s at stake?

Imagine a future where students die if teachers teach.

seww4@mail.umkc.edu

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