I’m a high school teacher and an Army veteran with a deployment under my belt. As a teacher, I had to discuss how I would keep my students safe in my classes the day after Parkland. As a veteran, I sat down with my administration to discuss the lack of real classroom-level planning the day after Parkland. It’s been a week and students, teachers and staff are still frightened.
This one is different.
Mass shootings are hitting closer to home. We’d had three real lockdowns at my building this school year as of February. Social media chattered about a possible school shooting on my campus in early February. I helped break up one of multiple fights on Valentine’s Day. Then the Parkland massacre happened.
Let me tell you what I hear at school: Teachers are frustrated, trying to think through how to protect students in their classrooms without much guidance beyond “close the door and hide.” A promising young teacher now has anxiety medication. An experienced counselor is contemplating the option to retire early this year.
This is not OK.
We need to have honest conversations about how to address this problem. Teens in Parkland are taking articulate stands while some of our national leaders act childish. Enough. We are American. We can have hard conversations. We can listen to understand. We can engage in a national civil dialogue about real solutions. We can solve problems.
There are positive steps we can take at the personal level and the policy level.
At the personal level, we can help those who otherwise fall through the cracks before they choose to commit these heinous acts. People are social creatures and need connections. School is so much more than fidelity to subject matter curriculum. We need both content and social emotional learning (SEL) to educate the whole child — the things that ultimately result in good citizenship. Students should feel needed and wanted at school. We can reach out.
We also need to have realistic conversations about what to do in active shooter situations. National guidance has changed, but that hasn’t filtered down to the classrooms even with “regular policy reviews.” I have a plan to actively defend my classroom, but many teachers don’t know where to start. This much is a fact: All teachers need a plan tailored to their classrooms. I will help my school have that conversation.
At the policy level, the Second Amendment speaks of a “well-regulated militia,” so let’s improve our regulations. We can allow scientists at the CDC to research gun violence so we have reliable data to inform decisions. We can require universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods. We can close gaps in background check reporting systems. We can ban modifications like bump stocks that turn semi-automatic weapons into something resembling fully automatic weapons. We can improve access to mental health services. We can demand our leaders honestly discuss proposals that might reduce access to these weapons by those who would do us harm.
The longer we wait, the closer we get to the next event. I hope it doesn’t happen in my school.
Yes, we’ll take a bullet for our students if it comes to that, but we didn’t sign up to teach in potential combat zones. Call on your school board, your state elected leaders and Utah’s congressional delegation to have these crucial conversations. Work with us, our students and the Parkland students to fix this national problem.
Deborah Gatrell, West Valley City, is a social studies teacher in Granite School District and a Utah Teacher Fellow working to increase teacher voice in education policy. Follow Deborah on Twitter @DeborahGatrell1 and the Utah Teacher Fellows on Facebook and Twitter @HSG_UT.