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A Teacher’s View on School Safety: A Response to the Newtown Tragedy

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Newtown Shooting

Newtown Shooting. Graphic by Wayne James 2013.

When I decided to become an elementary teacher it really was because I had a desire to make a difference in a child’s life. I wanted to offer alternatives to children who were likely to turn to crime and violence by becoming an effective teacher and challenging them academically while still supporting their emotional and developmental growth processes.

My undergraduate studies prepared me to teach academic content while understanding an individual child’s educational preferences and needs. I was trained in child psychology, health, ethics, and then passed state teaching standards.  At that time I was off to make a difference and prepare each child    academic rigor and expectations of the real world.  After ten years in a public classroom, and a Master’s Degree in Education later, I have to admit that teachers, in all reality, cannot fill all of the educational and safety needs of children. Yes, we have the ability but we do not have the overall public consensus to do so.

If you ask any school administrator what their number one priority is for their campus you will more than likely hear student safety before academics. Educators refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but in short, each child needs to feel safe, secure, and healthy for optimal learning to occur. Government and States have been attempting to address these needs in public schools with programs such as free and reduced school meals to tackle hunger, counselors, and campus health practitioners.  Teachers are required to participate in continuing education hours yearly to maintain their content skills and to keep up with educational trends. Unfortunately, emotional, health, and academic needs will have to fall behind because we have a much greater need today. That need is campus safety.

School districts have various campus committees that help design and implement campus policy and procedures. Safety is among one of the many, but it is the upmost important policy to all district employees. There are campus alerts, alarms, and drills designed and practiced throughout the school year. There is a policy, procedure, and drill for school campuses to follow throughout the country for just about any adverse event: fire, weather, poisonous gas, stranger on campuses.

All districts have disaster drills for each grade level served on that campus. All alerts and drills are to be responded to by teachers and they are to assume it is the actual event and follow specific procedures. Whatever the teacher is doing at the time, he or she must be ready for an alert and be responsible for their students. Many times a flashing light or strobe light will replace your classroom lighting and doors will automatically close. A classroom teacher might have to instruct the students’ to position themselves under the tables, away from windows, or line up to load busses and evacuate campus. In the case of elementary children, many times the drill actually scares them and you have to put in some time explaining why it is important to practice safety drills. Some campuses will have at least 4-6 drills a month. The number and type of drills, ultimately, will lead to some parents becoming upset because their child had to miss academic time or the drills possibly caused their child to become anxious. School administrators and teachers receive many complaints over the practice of safety drills.

Many districts developed policies that do not allow individuals in the hallways of school campuses before or during school hours. This was designed so school employees could monitor hallway traffic and ensure that an individual could not slip into a classroom or potentially harm a child. It also prevented disgruntled parents from possible confrontations with teachers in front of children.  This actually did prevent some problems such as; parents confronting other children, cursing, or indecent clothing exposing specific parts of the adult visitor. However; many parents complained that the school districts were interfering with their parental rights and many districts caved in to the parents complaints and established a check in point where parents could sign in before walking the school campus.

Now after the recent school tragedy in Newtown, CT. school districts are faced with trying to develop procedures to prevent this from happening in their classrooms. People are screaming to schools and government for safety, but when the only solution to defend children from assault weapons is to ban them, the pro-gun members claim the ban on these weapons will violate citizen’s second amendment rights. Pro-gun advocates suggest schools should provide campus safety by allowing teachers to receive gun training and permitting them to arm themselves or provide all schools with armed guards.

As an elementary teacher, I am trying to visualize a safety drill to practice with children that will prepare them for either one of the previous suggestions. I would have to think of these suggestions as if they were real. This stirs some serious questions.

First, if you want teachers armed to take out a gunman with an assault weapon, then what kind of concealed gun would teachers have to become proficient with that could stand a chance? Second, could teachers possibly teach or illustrate on the board with their hand on their holster? Third, if teachers being armed could stop a gunman who is already firing by taking a remarkable lucky shot from across the hall or campus and hitting the gunman would that prevent all loss of life? In reality, a teacher could not both teach and be prepared at any moment to take on an assault weapon.  I am sure many teachers are skilled with handguns, but to suggest or support this procedure one would clearly have to be delusional. I know some teachers are visualizing themselves on the NRA’s posters as “The teacher who saved the campus” but they are living in some fantasy world, because this is extremely dangerous and will no doubt eventually lead to accidental shootings.  The alert drill would be: “children drop low your teacher is going to draw their weapon and pray on your way down they don’t shoot you or your classmates.”

Now, I am thinking about the pro-gun solution about providing armed guards for all schools. Yet, these members are the same individuals that complain about providing funding for free lunch programs. If they complain about feeding children, is it really that tough to question their true concern? Many school districts do not have enough textbooks for every student and yet some believe there will be funds for armed guards for every school? This might sound good those who refuse to question, but those of us that actually have been employed with school districts know that this will NEVER happen unless qualified officers want to work for free–EVERYDAY of the school year!

So, in all honesty, teachers and school districts cannot provide the essential educational and safety needs of children. Educators attempt to develop procedures but if actual solutions to serious problems are always met with overwhelming criticism by groups of individuals more concerned about well-armed militias than they are about their nation’s children.  I think it would be accurate to assume these individuals know absolutely nothing about child development, psychology, inclusion, science, budgeting, precision teaching, time on task, firearm forensics, or any true basic foundations of education or constitutionalism!

Our nation’s children will have to compete in the worldwide arena in the very near future and we certainly owe them a much safer and stronger educational experience. Pretending or being delusional to mask the real problems of society in the end will lead to our nation loosing much more than our second amendment rights and it will ultimately be the fault of those who refuse to apply education, logic, and plain common sense.

Tracy Brownlee

Tracy Brownlee

Tracy is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She earned her BS in Interdisciplinary Studies and her M. Ed. in Special Education. Tracy has over ten years of classroom experience from early childhood education to Secondary Mathematics.

Tracy currently is the president of an educational firm and resides with her two children in Lufkin, Texas.

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“And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.” Revelation 13:1-3.

And the beast called itself GOP and written upon its seven heads are: Avarice, Cowardice, Entitlement, Homophobia, Ignorance, Misogyny, and Racism. And the meek shall cry out in agony. And the beast shall be slain by the Lamb, in their name. And the beast's name shall be erased from the minds of men forever.

Amen