On any given day I could write a tome on the ways that we infantilize rather than elevate teachers. Little respect for their expertise. Forcing them to teach subjects they weren’t trained to teach. Micromanaging their professional day. Over time, like water wearing away stone, we lose sight that teachers are professionals – not children – and deserve to be included in decisions that impact their lives, as any professionals should be.
For me, no issue crystallizes this problem more than the surge of interest in arming teachers.
Immediately following the Newtown school shooting, everyone grasped to make sense of the unthinkable. It didn’t take long for that to evolve into searching for answers: What if the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School had been armed? Might this tragedy have been averted? Would more guns help prevent another school massacre?
The idea of arming teachers has drawn scorn and outrage and been soundly rejected by teachers as well as their professional organizations. The results of a January poll suggest the guns-in-schools movement is far from what teachers want. But none of that has deterred legislators from taking steps to change state laws allowing firearms in classrooms.
Late last week, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in school, making it the first state to enact such a law since the Newtown tragedy. Teachers and representatives of school boards and school administrators opposed the bill. They said the measure could make schools more dangerous, lead to accidental shootings and put guns in the hands of people who are not adequately trained to shoot in emergency situations. But what do they know? They’re only the professionals to whom the nation entrusts its children daily.
Multiple states are now pushing to follow in South Dakota’s footsteps: Kansas lawmakers passed an amendment authorizing teachers to carry concealed weapons during the school day; legislation to arm teachers is advancing in Arizona; and in Mississippi, a debate intended to focus on school safety policies has once again veered back to letting school districts arm teachers and employees.
Against this backdrop, some 150 teachers joined union leaders and education experts from around the world in Amsterdam this week for the third International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Summit participants wrestled with contentious issues like teacher preparation and evaluation and the role of teachers in these matters. I anticipate the team from the U.S. will return energized by how high-performing school systems place a premium on teacher input and buy-in and the incredible professional respect they give to teachers. They will also be struck by how these education systems are light-years from our own, where teachers too often have little or no voice in critical decisions. In the case of arming teachers, that means no say in their own personal safety and the safety of the students they serve.
Less than 24 hours after Newtown, a gunman opened fire inside St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He wounded a Birmingham police officer and two employees before he was fatally shot by police. I try to envision a scenario where lawmakers propose arming doctors or nurses to help prevent tragedies such as St. Vincent’s. I try to picture physicians telling them, “That’s ludicrous, we don’t want to carry guns,” and lawmakers plowing right ahead, regardless of their wishes. And I can’t, because it would never happen.
Apparently, politicians failed to get the memo: teachers are grown-ups, not merely tall children. Insulting? Undeniably. Demeaning? Extremely. Common sense? Out the window.