By Robert D. Muller, Ed.D.
Arm Teachers? Absolutely.
With the tools and supports they need to help all students learn to their potential.
As we reflect on the sickening, senseless loss of life in the Parkland, Florida school shooting, there is no question that we extend our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the bereaved. And then we go on to another day of precarious normalcy with talk, prognostication and dubious assumptions.
Policy, knee jerks and firearms
One legislator suggests that calls for thoughtful policy change and more restrictive gun laws are “knee-jerk” reactions. Our president suggests teachers pack firearms to defend their classrooms. Let’s put aside the denigration of law enforcement and the military, who train intensively to wield firearms in high-pressure situations, this implies.
Let’s instead focus on the needs of educators, teachers in particular, to help all children achieve to their potential – to prepare them for meaningful and fulfilling lives, effective citizenship, postsecondary education, and the workforce. With what should our teachers be armed? There are many significantly more powerful ways we can arm teachers to help students succeed that are better than weaponizing the classroom – and we have the data to back up those measures.
No doubt perpetrators of extreme violence suffer from unmanaged mental illness and may be otherwise deranged. But the rates of mental illness and other contributing factors to extreme violence are roughly the same in the U.S. as in other countries that do not experience frequent gun fatalities.
Let’s take the steps proven to work
How about taking the money that would be spent on teacher guns and spending it on concrete steps to help teachers and students succeed? Investments in guidance, counseling and student supports. Services for struggling students, including social-emotional learning and positive behavioral interventions. Early warning systems regarding attendance, attention, test scores, and early signs of trauma. Redoubled efforts to create positive school climates and engage communities. We know these things. But we have not consistently created the circumstances that can pay attention to them. Nor have we consistently supported teachers in their awesome responsibility as stewards of our children’s learning.
Consider too the individual teacher. Do we want teachers focusing on target practice, or on how to help a struggling reader? Imagine a community in which we ensure that our schools are safe places within which real, deep learning can occur. These environments become successful not because they approximate high-security prisons, but because we have invested in arming teachers with knowledge, skills, research-based practices and tools that our children need to succeed at school and beyond.