The Elephant in the Classroom

Another mass shooting, another set of knee-jerk responses.

Once again, there is a call to arm educators and school staff in an effort to thwart an active shooter in a school building. It is yet another measure that has been proposed to protect students while in school, but certainly not the first.

At first we practiced soft- and hard-lockdown procedures. Which morphed into active shooter drills employing ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) and other options-based practices. Read more about ALICE here.

While I was glad that a protocol had been worked out by people far more expert in such situations than I would ever be, these protocols can make adults and children very anxious.  ALICE and options-based responses are not a 100% guarantee of success.

Schools sometimes have resource officers stationed within them. At Stoneman-Douglas in Parkland, FL, there has been wide-spread criticism of the resource officers who did not enter the building as the gunman was shooting. The officers, I believe, were armed with pistols which would have been no match for the AR-15 assault weapon the shooter was carrying.  Would a resource office shooting a pistol have saved lives and prevented injuries in the Parkland incident? Were those officers slow in assessing the situation and their response to it, or were they incompetent? Either way, the officers must now live with their decisions and the consequences for the rest of their lives.

Now Mr. Trump and others are raising the idea of arming educators, or to be more precise, arming some educators. That elite group of people would be reward by a bonus for their skill and willingness to take on an active shooter within a school building using a concealed weapon. And while teachers carrying weapons is allowed in some state and schools already, this horrifying proposal – horrifying to anyone who has ever worked in an elementary, middle, or even high school classroom with impulsive children – is being touted as the magical solution to make our schools safer.

I don’t know why anyone would think school safety would be enhanced by an educator carrying a weapon. Here’s a statistic from a 2007 NYTimes article.  In New York City, police officers, trained in weaponry and in responding to tense shooter situations:

In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate. They shot and killed nine people that year.

Maureen Downey reaffirms this statistic and more in this Atlanta Journal Constitution article, “Cops face hard time hitting targets in gunfire“. Law enforcement officers who train extensively know that hitting the “target” in a tense situation happens less than 20% of the time. How does that translate to educators? What will the collateral damage be in such a situation?

To me, it seems the path of least resistance is to come up with more protocols and reactions to armed shooters. The hard route? That would be having the courage to eliminate the types of weapons used most frequently in mass shootings: assault weapons. Is a weapon that obliterates everything in its path, that causes such massive and total damage to human life (see “What I learned from treating the victims from Parkland“) necessary for civilians to protect themselves?

The elephant in the classroom is that, despite all the protocols and proposals for protecting schools and churches and other venues, mass shooters, some with some very severe mental issues, continue to get access to some very powerful weapons. And unless we are willing to say that this style of weapon has no place in civilian society, until our lawmakers are willing to walk away from lobbyists who protect the manufacturers of these weapons, until access to such high-powered guns is taken away, no amount of hiding in a classroom or arming staff members will save anyone.

Carrying any kind of gun would never be for me: I had no intention of using it whether in a classroom or anyplace else. But I understand that is not everyone’s feeling. I think Emma Gonzalez expresses it best:

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Best Teacher on Earth?

One of the joys of teaching elementary-aged students is receiving a card emblazoned with #1 Teacher or similar sentiments.  A few weeks ago, one of my students wrote out a card telling me I was “the best teacher on Earth.”

I’m not sure I feel about how deserved that honor is. You see, lately I think I might better be called a test proctor, not a teacher.

Since we administered our first state test in the March Round – an 18 hour test extravaganza spread over 3 days – our students have endured a 40-question Math Benchmark, Math Module tests (3!), Fountas/Pinnell Reading Assessments  (administered individually), and SRI computerized reading tests. In the middle of all this testing, students also completed 2 days of state testing in mathematics.

Now with 11 days until school ends, instead of enjoying a more relaxed class atmosphere, students are completing yet another Module test, a computerized assessment for a CAI program, and a progress monitoring Math test.

With all this testing going on, when do we actually teach? I’m not sure I can tell you that exactly. In between?

Take a look at all the time lost to testing in the last 2 months.  Staggering and concerning, isn’t it?  And what does the assessment show? It shows we can give lots of tests and that the kids have a good level of stamina for testing. Beyond that, we’re often so busy administering assessments that taking a thoughtful look at results and what they mean for instruction never seems to get done. If we can’t learn anything about what is working or not working for our students, what is the point?

This week, my colleagues across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are attempting to raise public awareness. We don’t need all the time taken away from instruction to complete assessments show us what students need.

We need #lesstesting.

With Gratitude

Teachers have taken it on the chin for quite a number of years. If the media are to be believed, we are a collective bunch of incompetents who need to be whipped into shape. And then Newtowne happened. A curtain lifted on the noblest of colleagues, who placed their own safety and protection secondary to their students.

What really made me start thinking about all the teachers who have helped me was this Story Corp segment. Wow, would that every teacher could hear from just one student who remembered what their teachers did that inspired them even into adulthood!

So here’s my thank you: Miss Buell, Mrs. Keefe, Ms. Brown, Mrs. Nichol, Mrs. Harrell, Mrs. Garten, Mrs. Hoffman….. thank you for inspiring me to love learning so that today I can try to teach my own students to love learning too!