Protecting teachers as well as students

More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School in Cary on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre.
More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School in Cary on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre. tlong@newsobserver.com

The scourge of mass killing of children in schools warrants the outrage from every American. Innocent children are being mowed down month after month by murderers with sophisticated assault weapons. These killings demand corrective action from politicians who must understand that their re-elections, so lavishly paid for by the NRA and the Gun Industry, are not worth the life of even a single child.

Sadly, North Carolina’s two senators (Richard Burr $7 million; Thom Tills $4.5 million) are among the NRA’s most cherished employees.

The anguished attention to the deaths of these helpless children overshadows the deaths of many of their teachers, who often risk their lives to protect their students, even to the extent of offering themselves as human shields. In light of the peril faced by teachers, one wonders why anyone would pursue a teaching career in this climate, never mind continuing an established career. Given the easy availability of weapons – spoiler alert – schools are not safe places.

Most schools these days not only have fire drills, they also have “lockdown drills.” Teachers are now given special orientation in how to manage these drills. In many cases, they (and their students) are taught to attack the attacker if he breaches their classroom, under the assumption no doubt that if they are going to be killed anyway, they might as well go down fighting.

Yet some high-profile right-wing pundits (and the president) are suggesting that teachers carry weapons in their classrooms and have body armor available to them. The pundits do not mention whether they should be packing pistols, shotguns or assault weapons, whether all teachers should be armed or whether they should be required to qualify with their weapon, as a soldier or policeman would.

Nor do they suggest what could possibly go wrong with this scenario. Hmmm.

Furthermore, who is going to purchase the weapons for this army of armed teachers? School districts? Doubtful. They already struggle with payroll and classroom supplies.

The teachers? A good 9mm pistol costs upwards of $500 plus ammunition, lessons, and gun club membership. We know that teachers in North Carolina with a Bachelor’s degree do not earn $40,000 annually until they have been in service for a minimum of 10 years. Their monthly salaries over that 10-year period range between $3,500 and $4,055. Deduct rent, food and car payments, and they clearly live on a bare-bones budget.

Furthermore, The News & Observer reported last November that many North Carolina teachers themselves pay more than $250 every term for books, pens, pencils, printer ink, and frequently food for poorer students. And these expenses are not even tax-deductible. The House and Senate tax bill eliminated them as a deduction.

Most teachers are idealistic, intelligent, hard-working folks. They not only teach their classes and have homeroom, lunchroom duty, hall duty and bus duty, they also do their lesson plans at night and grade papers on the weekends. They are accountable to school administrators, parents, students, and state politicians who set standards and define salaries. Managing lockdowns is something new. They do not teach lockdowns at the college level, nor do they provide weapons training.

Most likely the present crop of conscientious teachers will thin itself out. Love of subject matter, caring for young minds, a desire to make the world a better place – these values cannot flourish in schools that are not safe, or in schools that become “safe” only by becoming like prisons, replete with metal detectors, barricaded sections, police everywhere, and regular drills to maintain heightened vigilance.

Teachers who do remain should demand hazardous duty pay.

The “guns for everybody” crowd seems to be looking for a “new teacher” – a 21st century gun-toting badass recruited from the ranks of, say, the Navy Seals or Special Ops. They would operate in a “new classroom” – where body armor and loaded Glocks are available on demand for each student. Marksmanship and martial arts replace mathematics and the language arts. Sparta replaces Athens.

Eventually we must ask: when does a school stop being a school?

Ideally, a school is a special place where children are nurtured, educated and excited, a place where children learn how to become good citizens, a place where children gather lifelong memories. Not nightmares.

Schools aspire to, but do not always achieve, those ideals. But at the very least, a school should not be a place where students and teachers fear for their lives every day.

The solution is simple but labor intensive: vote out the cowards in government who place their constituents’ lives at risk by taking blood money from the NRA, and replace them with men and women who will, at the very least, ban assault weapons and prohibit criminals and the mentally-ill from gun purchases.

Bill Shaw is a member of N.C. State’s English department, frequent contributor to the Pinehurst paper “The Pilot“ and author of several books.