Teaching With Tolerance
Julie L Scharf
As a teacher, I have been asked if carrying a gun to school would make me feel safer. This question has been brought up more frequently during emergency after-school meetings following recent school shootings in the United States. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary incident in Connecticut this past December, I was inundated with questions and opinions by fellow staff regarding this topic, and by the community in which I teach. I began noticing additional electronic communications and questionnaires through our school district, predicting this may be a sign of “things to come,” and that we should potentially be fully prepared if it happens again. There are links waiting for me to click to vote on the subject whether teachers should be allowed to have a gun when we walk in our classrooms. It seemed that every day I received a question from a fellow staff member or an email asking the question, should teachers be allowed to carry guns to class?
My school is located in a small, rural town in Colorado. The closest city is Denver, which is approximately two-hundred and forty-eight miles away. Where my teaching assignment is located is even smaller than the surrounding "small" city. In this community, we hold yearly events such as the “Mike the Headless Chicken” festival, which, according to the locals, was derived when a locally-owned chicken farmer cut the head off of one of their chickens, and, as legend has it, the chicken lived. Or the Fat Tire festival, which includes a bike ride and brew (a favorite for out-of-towners looking for a new brew to try). We have one grocery store and a True Value. One gas station, one McDonald’s, a Taco Bell, a Wendy’s, and a couple of other locally-owned restaurants—“mom and pop” as we call them. A self-owned coffee hut (which serves the best vanilla lattes, I might add) and a few churches—old buildings from the 1800s--mostly Christian. We do not have a Starbucks. We do not have any of the “large” chains of bookstores, sit-down restaurants, hardware stores, clothing stores. We do not even have a mall. And yet, because of the recent shootings, there are some in this very small, rural, farm town who fear for their children’s lives and safety when they send their students to school.
Over the past few years, school shootings have increased dramatically in the United States. In just one of many recent school shootings, twenty-eight casualties were counted after the massacre which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut, last December. Then there were the Millard South High School Shooting in 2011, the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007, and Red Lake Senior High in 2005. Columbine High School, though fourteen years ago in April, still seems present. Amidst all these recent shootings, it’s not that I don’t feel safe in my environment, but it has led me to think about the reasons school shootings are on the rise. I have to wonder why our world feels that a teacher could potentially make kids feel safer in school with a concealed weapon. After examining the recent school shootings over the past several years, I have asked the question: would it help teach our students tolerance if educators were allowed to carry a concealed weapon to school?
It is my job to make these kids feel safe when they are in my room. It is my job to teach them reading, writing, and reasoning and presentation skill.
It is also my job to be a role model where there is none, to inspire them where there is little inspiration, to show them to be brave and to take risks, and that violence is not the way to get your message across. That writing is a powerful tool. All of this in only seventy minutes every single day in each class, four classes per day.
Students, whether it means through a failing grade or lack of homework completion, need to learn to take responsibility for their actions. Life is not a video game. You can’t just “pull the trigger” and then expect to reboot and start again. Life isn’t about that; it is about making mistakes and learning and growing from them, and knowing your limits with the choices you make. Knowing that some choices have no do-overs, and that we must think before we repeat our behaviors and make even bigger mistakes. Parents wonder why we need to enlist their help and support from home - it is as important for parents to fully support their students as it is for them to allow them to make mistakes and to fail if students choose to do so. Not doing so sabotages your student’s ability to reason well beyond the classroom.
Teachers do not need to carry guns to school. Teachers, and their parents, need to continue to teach our kids right from wrong, and hold them accountable when they make the wrong choices.
Why are so many Americans turning to the idea that guns will keep your children safe? As a nation, educators in public schools often see little support from parents, and yet parents entrust their students to our care each and every day. We are left fending for ourselves as a society instead, while we search outside ourselves for answers. We don’t support our local schools — schools in which we send our students and then expect our teachers to teach them the fundamentals of life: how to walk in a line, write a letter to the president, get along with your neighbor, share with one another.
If you have kids, then you know what I am referring to. If you are aspiring to have children soon, you might be worried about what kind of world you are sending your student to. Worry no longer, parents. If you’re worried, it’s time to get involved.
What we need to do is support education, not guns. But what kind of education? A strong, meaningful education for your child led by highly trained and trusted educators, so that he or she can grow to make the right choices and be a responsible human being. Someone to learn from and look up to, not someone to fear. We need to learn to trust in our youth to make the best decisions, and those decisions begin with us modeling for them good and strong choices. What we need to teach is tolerance in our schools. We do not need to continue to blame our woes and pressures on teachers, administration and staff.
Students need to take more accountability for their actions, their decisions, and the choices they make. Do you really believe that toting a gun is an answer?
I don’t know why that kid in Connecticut pulled that trigger. Why those students from Columbine chose what they did. Why there weren’t enough supporters—parents, teachers, students—who could hear their early cries for help or their anger, which could have been redirected in another way to sway them from making the choices they did.
Although we may think guns are the answer, they are not. The answer is prevention.
As I stand at my classroom door, adjusting my name tag and putting a smile on my face for all students to see, would I feel safer knowing a gun was tucked in a holster beneath my suit or work jacket? The answer to that question is no, and it only makes me fear for the safety of our students, our country, and its future ideals.
I do not feel safer as an educator having a gun in my classroom. Handing out books makes me feel safer; books which will enrich a student’s life. Teaching students tolerance and real life skills is the answer. What are we teaching through this example of fear? A book in a student’s hand is a weapon, but it is not a weapon of violence. It is a weapon of emotion, intelligence, and love.
Teach our children to love one another. Teach them tolerance.