Arming teachers is a hot topic of debate. Federal law prohibits guns on school campuses, but it doesn’t always apply to citizens with concealed carry permits. As a result of this loophole, 18 states already allow adults to carry handguns on to school property with prior authorization from the school, and 10 states allow concealed carry in schools as standard practice.
The debate is building, but we haven’t heard the opinion of a crucial group of people who have the right to be heard – the teachers. The Florida Education Association (the teacher’s and education workers’ labor union in the state of Florida) recently called an emergency meeting of its executive cabinet to take a formal stand against arming teachers.
They even acknowledged that their position was taken without hearing from the teachers. After publising their decision, they recently sent out a statewide email requesting teacher feedback, in it stating, “You are on the frontlines every day educating Florida’s 2.8 million public school students, and too often your voice is not heard in the debates.”
What are Teachers Saying?
I’m a teacher in Florida. I took the question to my school, a suburban junior high, with approximately 1,100 students and 70 faculty members. In addition to the lifetime educators, our teachers were previously police officers, social workers, office workers, college students, stay-at-home parents and a strong representation of military veterans.
I’m proud of my school – one where we are fortunate to have supportive administrators who have fostered a community of cooperation and support. To them I posed the question: “How do you feel about arming teachers?”
The recurrent comment was “yes, allow guns in the school.” But the dividing line was between allowing anyone who wants to carry to do so, or only arming the qualified. The majority felt that the qualified are our veterans and ex-cops. Noted a math teacher, “the average teacher would panic in that situation. The former military has been trained for years to handle situations of chaos.”
But I also recognized an underlying current. Most do not want that responsibility. “I do not have nor want the training required to take that kind of responsibility,” remarked one teacher. “Teaching is my profession. I did not sign up to carry a gun and be a police officer or a soldier,” said another.
Make no mistake, these teachers are speaking of the burden of carrying a gun, not the responsibility of defending our students. We already hold that responsibility.
Our schools provide children breakfast and lunch. Some schools in our area now offer lunch during the summer hours because children do not receive meals at home. Our teachers often have food and snacks in our classrooms. We provide students clothing, hygiene products, and school supplies, absorbing the cost ourselves. We are not required to do these activities, but good teachers do.
Teaching is much like missionary work; we must meet the basic need before we can begin to address, in our case, the educational requirement. But when it comes to physically protecting our students, we can only take a passive stance. One teacher who is retired military noted, “I can only escape as quickly as my slowest student, or I can hide with them.”
We are willing to fight for our students, and we acknowledge that may involve risking our lives. Most of us care for these kids as if they were our children. This is why so many of us refer to them as “our kids.” One female teacher replied, “if it’s between a killer and my students, the killer will have a fight on their hands.” Your public school teachers care that much, and it is an awesome responsibility. One professional summarized it well, “This responsibility has nothing to do with being a teacher or a job in any other field for that matter. This responsibility comes with citizenship.” A science teacher added, “The union does not speak for all teachers. I won’t do it for the money, I do it for your child.”
Should arming teachers be the first choice?
May I challenge you to consider, there is a more profound need than quickly arming faculty. Our leaders have a responsibility to schools to put into place stronger security measures and training. Arming faculty should be the final step. Our school is fenced in, and our doors now remain locked at all times. However, redirected funding removed our resource officer.
Before arming teachers, we would like to see the officers return or have armed security and our security cameras linked with a local police monitoring station. Teachers can be given access to panic buttons if they encounter a threat. I would rather have a false alarm than an accidental shooting.
Unfortunately, funding is always the elephant in the room when it comes to education, and it is cheaper to defer the decisions to the states and districts and allow teachers to carry at their own expense.
One social studies teacher addressed the question of money. “I’m not keen on the idea of arming teachers voluntarily unless it is a paid position.”
I’m sorry Mr. President, teachers would be performing two fully paid positions, educator and armed guard. It will likely take more than a cursory bonus. The Federal government must be more proactive on this legislation, at the very least providing a more precise definition of arming teachers and closing some of the loopholes.
It may come to the point of necessity to arm qualified personnel on school campuses, but before we reach this point, we should proceed with forethought and caution. One teacher summed up nicely, “It is unfortunate that our society has come to this, but the reality is that it has.”
Rather than reacting in the emotion of the latest attack on our community, we should make responsible controlled decisions. We have to do all that we can to ensure our safety before we arm teachers. Your public school teachers are willing to bear arms for your children, but we want to ensure the best qualified, properly trained and compensated professionals are doing the job. “We have the right to carry to protect ourselves, then why should we not have the same mindset to get something done to protect our future?”
Lauren Crews teaches English Language Arts at Lake Asbury Junior High. She appears courtesy of The Bold City Voice.