COMMENTARY By DR. DHANPAUL NARINE
The job of a teacher is to teach. It is not to have a gun strapped to his or her body. There are enough personnel in the administration that can get proper training to protect schools and students. Teachers have enough to worry about; carrying guns is the last thing that a teacher needs to be effective.
In 1988, I walked into one of the most challenging classrooms in New York City. I expected the students to be well disciplined and to follow directions. In Guyana and the Caribbean, students did what they were told, at least in the old days. The schools were in the heart of the community and it meant that the teachers and parents interacted almost on a daily basis.
It was different in New York. Students found their way to school on public transportation, or there were long lines of buses outside of the school to ferry them from home to school. It became clear that standing in front of a class in New York was not going to be straightforward.
The requirement was that a teacher must have a Master’s Degree to begin the application process. After extensive paperwork, and nomination of the teacher by a principal, one finally got the nod to start in September. But first, there were other requirements. The teacher had to complete child abuse courses and an orientation.
The principal met the staff; a good many of them were teaching for the first time. His first statement was that the school had a ‘hands off policy.’ This meant that a teacher was not supposed to get in a physical confrontation with a child for any reason. The second statement related to school safety. The principal stressed that the building must be secured at all times. Teachers were to leave and enter the building from one door only. This made sense since the building had many doors and security could easily be compromised.
There were two guards stationed at the school that were easy going and friendly. They had been around for a while and were not tested in any real emergency. I had attended Teachers College, Columbia University, where they put us through the theories of Piaget’s developmental psychology, the Premack principle, the differences between consequences and punishment and positive and negative reinforcement, among others.
I was ready for the class of 1988. But they weren’t ready for me! The students had a mind of their own. They were bussed in from different parts of New York and the mix was uneven. They were teenagers with all sorts of emotional problems and learning problems and academics was low on their agenda. The teacher had to manage their behavior and teach at the same time.
By the end of the first day a teacher decided to quit. She spent two days making her classroom pretty; on her first day of teaching the room looked as if it had seen a war. At the end of the second week the paperwork began to flow in earnest. There were attendance records, incidence reports, lesson plans, and the Individual Education Plans or IEP’s that were all year round.
In addition, there were conferences with the supervisors and parents and more record keeping on the outcomes. When these were combined with academia and the behavior of students it proved to be exhausting, and it had to be repeated in the following days and weeks. Imagine if a teacher had to be responsible for a gun and with all the regulations that would allow for guns to be carried in the classroom. It is extremely doubtful whether the teacher could be effective and produce results.
The recent shooting in Florida, and previous incidents involving schools, have led some persons, including President Trump, to call for teacher to carry guns. But as can be seen from the description, teachers have too much on their plates to worry about guns. They should not be given this additional responsibility.
What are some of the arguments in favor of carrying guns? One of the reasons is that teachers need to protect their students. It is argued that selected teachers will be permitted to carry guns and the carrier’s identity would be a secret. But perhaps the most compelling argument is the ratio of security officers to the student population.
One school reported that there was only one security guard for over 1,000 students. If a gunman entered that school there could be casualties, and without a proper plan it is left to the imagination as to what could happen.
Another argument in favor of guns is that some school boards already allow teachers to carry guns. In Oregon, for instance, teachers can carry guns and the same applies to teachers in Texas.
In addition, a shooter would think twice to enter a school if it is known that the teachers are armed. But there are equally strong arguments against teachers carrying guns. The first is that the job of a teacher is to teach and not to have to worry about the gun in the locker. In the event of a shooter entering a school, the teacher may not have enough time to get his or her gun from the locker.
There have been reports of accidental shootings in the classrooms. What about the teacher with emotional problems who might snap and do damage with a gun? In March 2018, a teacher accidentally discharged a gun while teaching a class about public safety. The incident occurred in Northern California and the teacher was put on leave.
There are better ways to protect children than to have teachers carrying guns.
The most obvious is to improve school safety. Many schools have resisted the use of metal detectors. They claim that it gives the impression of a siege mentality. But these are different times. Schools should have metal detectors.
They should have more and better trained security guards and funding for them should be provided. An armed deputy engaged and took down a shooter in a High School in Maryland; the entire episode lasted about a minute. It would take longer than that for a teacher to get a gun from a locker, prep his or her class, and then engage the attacker.
Then there are hi-tech cameras. These cameras should be mounted outside of the school and should be powerful enough to pick up objects some distance away. An attacker can do damage outside the school compound as well and steps should be taken to protect it. Background checks and raising the age limit to 21, to purchase guns, are steps in the right direction.
The nationwide marches, protests, and demonstrations show that change will come from the students.
The future leaders will emerge from their ranks. After Stoneman Douglas High School, it cannot be business as usual any longer.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.