As crazy and challenging as it may be, for a lot of teachers, the classroom is our sanctuary. While professions in education continue to see their fair share of hardships, the walls of a school can bring some calm to the chaos of life. Especially when life includes a toddler and an infant at home. In my classroom, I am in control. I decide the objective, I know the dynamics, and I am on a mission. Over the last 13 years working as a secondary English teacher, I quickly learned my roles would be different for each student every year.
These roles range from parent, mentor, and financial advisor, to nurse, mediator, and nutritionist. I have administered medical attention mid-lesson as an epileptic student dropped to the floor, writhing. I have guided countless students through financial aid applications, handed out lunch money, sanitary products, and plenty of hefty doses of reality. I have held the shaking shoulders of a young girl finding her voice after being a victim of sexual assault. I have watched eager, motivated students be denied their right to higher education based on the status of their citizenship. My perspectives of the world and its people have been shaken, molded, and forever changed by the many immigrants and refugees that have sat in my desks. And yes, I have locked my classroom door, drawn the shades, and huddled my students next to the radiator as the lockdown announcement echoed through the ancient PA system. I have also grieved for a sister school after they suffered through a horrific on-campus murder-suicide.
Whether it be rural, urban, or suburban, every district I have worked within has had protocols for situations involving gun violence — a threat that has no place in our schools. Students should be focused on what assignments they are turning in that day, not whether they will be gunned down in the cafeteria while waiting in line for their lunch. Recently, I overheard two of my kids talking before class. As I listened, waiting to hear topics such as their recent victory on the basketball court, I was saddened to hear the question, “Where would we hide in Mrs. Pavone’s class if a shooter enters?” Their eyes nervously glancing around the exposed room. This was the underlying feeling permeating through my classroom as I began a lesson on dystopian literature; the irony was uncanny. And as disturbing as this occurrence was, here we are, in the midst of yet another mass school shooting. The topic of gun control is a part of daily conversation, and I have to ask myself, “Am I prepared to be an entirely different type of protector? Am I willing to carry a weapon to my workplace?”
The answer is unequivocally and emphatically, no. To put it simply, I refuse to create another tangible barrier our students must overcome. If we arm ourselves and create an environment of increased hostility, we will ultimately contribute to an increase in violence and violent attitudes. We cannot illustrate to our nation’s children that more weapons is the cure for a sick society. Our medicine is teaching kindness and tolerance, not fear.
In December of 2012, Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school and shot and killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven. Since then, there have been at least 239 school shootings in the United States. This means 239 times AFTER this tragedy occurred, children have been subjected to life-shattering gun violence. It is so devastating, that to name one, simplistic catalyst responsible is unrealistic. The mass shooting epidemic in our country is bred from a number of integral, yet neglected federal policies: one of which, is gun control.
The call for stricter background checks and restrictions on assault rifles is common sense. No civilian needs access to a weapon capable of murdering a high number of people in one minute’s time. If our government is able to regulate dangerous devices like lawn darts, then let them put a restriction on an actual piece of killing machinery. As a teacher and as a mother, I truly believe that the less assault weapons in circulation, the smaller the number of senseless deaths. However, regulating certain types of weaponry is not the only necessary change. We have to put restrictions on civilians’ access to guns once they have been known to show signs of aggression. CNN reported that following the Parkland shooting, the sheriff’s office showed a record of 45 calls relating to shooter, Nikolas Cruz. This is completely unacceptable.
The call to arm teachers is unacceptable. Don’t ask me (and other educators) to carry a gun. Don’t ask our counselors to carry a gun. Arming students’ mentors and sponsors is not the answer. My right to provide a quality education, free from an environment filled with weaponry, and fear is being threatened. I feel fortunate (and recognize just how much so) to be part of a district that is supported by a leader who is not interested in arming their teachers. Immediately following the shooting in Parkland, our superintendent met with the local sheriff’s department to review security measures that were currently in place. Within a week, there were changes to entering and exiting procedures, as well as increased mental health care professional services on campus to ensure our students felt safe and secure coming to school each day.
In Oklahoma, a number of school districts have begun implementing “safe rooms” within their classrooms. The rooms will allow students to enter a bulletproof shelter in a matter of seconds. As a mom of young children, merely on the brink of beginning their own educational careers, I can’t help but wonder how the traditional classroom environment will drastically change if we continue down this path of bloodshed. But we cannot, we won’t. We won’t continue to allow greediness to buy out our children’s lives in the name of an expired second amendment. I have hope in our future. Teens around the country are organizing protests, marches, and demonstrations. This doesn’t surprise me — our future leaders are smart, passionate, energized, and deliberate. They’re hungry for change, and I believe in them.
I believe in the potential of our youth and do not underestimate their influence on future campaigns and administrations. I have to have faith, not for just myself, but for my own children. In just a few years, I will watch as my son and daughter climb aboard a school bus, entrusting their entire, precious lives to the hands of a public educational institution. It is my hope that their teacher will be armed with the kindness, compassion, knowledge, and patience of an impactful instructor, not a gun.
Jennifer Pavone is a mother, teacher, yoga instructor, and literary enthusiast. She and her family reside in Rochester, New York.
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