I am a public school teacher in Forsyth County. As a special education teacher, I work with students at the middle school level and help them manage learning disabilities, ADHD, and other factors keeping them from performing on grade level. I love my job, but would leave it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to carry a gun in my classroom.
Friends and family members tell me this could never happen in North Carolina, but why not? The Florida legislature just voted to allow this. At least one school district in Texas has been doing it for years. And our elected officials in Raleigh have introduced a bill this session (SB 192) to allow this very thing – the badly mislabeled “School Security Act of 2019.”
Let’s set aside the horrifying possibility of a student or intruder gaining control of my weapon. In addition, let’s not consider the morass of lawsuits that are likely to crop up surrounding real, or even potential, situations a gun in the classroom would introduce. The main reason I would object to carrying a gun is the way the relationship with my students would change.
Teachers know a positive classroom environment is based on trust. My students trust me to treat them fairly, provide a safe place for them to learn and make mistakes, conduct myself in a predictable and professional manner, and provide instruction that educates and enriches. I am not the only teacher who also provides food when students are hungry, a supportive ear and shoulder to cry on when they want to share their troubles, and resources for their families during a crisis. A gun in my classroom destroys all of that. The ever-present existence of a deadly weapon delivers an implicit threat, and some oppressive questions: “What will happen in this room leading up to the use of the gun? Is it going to happen today?” And worst of all: “Can I trust Ms. Jones to keep us safe instead of using the gun on us?”
These may seem like inflammatory questions I created to stir up emotion. However, many of my students, at ages 12-14, have already experienced more than one ACE, or “adverse childhood experience.” I am not exaggerating when I say that, this year, that has included rape, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse and gun violence resulting in the murder of an immediate family member. So I ask you: what would give my students complete faith in me and my ability to keep them safe? Right now, my words and actions are the best I can do. Adding a deadly weapon to the equation would demolish the trust that in some cases has taken me years to build, and forever change the healthy dynamic between teacher and student. Without this foundation of trust, learning cannot take place.
Right about now, some of you may be thinking, “Fine, lady, don’t carry one. The proposed legislation gives teachers the option to do it, they’re not making it a requirement.” The trouble is, the idea of other teachers in my building choosing this option doesn’t make me feel safer. More guns carried by teachers day in and day out increases the chances of a student or intruder gaining control of one. Plus, when I think about the breakdown of trust I described earlier happening in other classrooms throughout my building, I feel sick.
So if arming teachers is not the answer, what is? Guess what, folks: I’m not completely anti-gun. I feel safer knowing our SRO (School Resource Officer) carries one, and would appreciate having more of these trained law enforcement officers in our schools. Metal detectors, scanners, and fewer points of entry to the building would also help. However, until we as a society acknowledge our toxic gun culture and take steps to limit access to firearms (especially assault weapons), school shootings will continue.
Please join me in letting our elected officials (including Senators Warren Daniel, Ralph Hise and Jerry Tillman – the primary sponsors of SB 192 – know that arming teachers is a terrible idea for everyone, but especially the students. They deserve better.
Brooks Jones is an educator in Forsyth County.