Days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a friend sent me a link to a bulletproof backpack insert and a three-page document from the manufacturer. The document offers information about “Training Our Kids for the Next School Shooter.” It shows an image of a school-aged girl in four different poses, demonstrating the many ways a child could use the ballistic insert to shield themselves from the wrath of a crazed gunman.
The document lists some do’s and don’ts in the event of an active shooter. Do: find cover, conceal yourself, present a small target, and call or text for help. Do not: carry anything while running, hide in the shooter’s line of sight, or plead for your life.
With bulletproof backpack sales skyrocketing after the Uvalde shooting, it is evident that the monetization of fear and grief is nearly as American as school shootings themselves. Still, as a fearful parent and former educator grieving the Uvalde tragedy, I found it hard to consider the $129 bulletproof shield ― which comes in camo, patriotic and school themes ― as anything other than a bargain.
Prompted by the link to the ballistic backpack insert, I asked my son to describe a lockdown drill.
His teacher turns off the lights, obstructs the doorway and grabs her baseball bat. The children sit against the wall. My son emphasized the importance of everyone being quiet. This checklist, of course, has been seared into the minds of American educators. Having taught elementary special education, I’m not an exception.
I tried imagining my son’s teacher, a small woman nearing retirement age, wielding a bat at an unhinged gunman. Just like when I’d imagined myself in that same scenario when I was teaching, the scene did not end well. It never ends well.
I was given a hammer in case there was ever an active shooter. My school administrators sent out an email survey at the beginning of the school year asking teachers if they wanted one. As a teacher, I learned not to turn down free things. I checked the “yes” box, but I can remember scoffing at the idea. I have no combat skills and no interest in acquiring any. I am fairly confident I would not be able to overpower an adult storming my classroom on a murder mission. With Republican legislators now wanting teachers to reallocate time from lesson planning to target practice, hammers and bats seem to be giving way to firearms.
I left teaching last November after the mounting responsibilities and insatiable demands became too much. I was inspired by all the clichés to teach. I wanted to teach. I loved teaching. But in practice, I was inundated with every possible task and role one could think of that was not teaching. I became an expert at navigating the seething, unwarranted anger from parents who’d bought into the right-wing narrative that teachers were good for nothing, that we lounged around eating bonbons during COVID shutdowns, collecting paychecks funded by the parents’ hard-earned tax dollars. I would get up early to reply to emails sent the night before by flustered parents fearing the “critical race theory” indoctrination of their children. I worked well into the evenings preparing IEPs and lesson plans. To my students, I was never just their teacher. I was counselor, role model, mediator and cheerleader.
And then, with a hammer, I was melee combatant.
The hammer was problematic, but it wasn’t the problem. Teachers like me are walking away from education in droves. We are not weak or dispassionate. We’re simply coming to realize that we’re being asked to do the impossible at the expense of our mental health, our emotional well-being and, now, our actual, literal lives.
In a nation with the highest rate of gun ownership, directly correlating with mass shootings, Republicans have somehow concluded that we should add more guns, and assign teachers the role and responsibility of campus security guards. With the national discourse around arming teachers, I can feel the visceral frustration from when I was teaching bubbling to the surface.
Stop asking teachers to do more. Stop asking teachers to subsidize lawmakers’ negligence. Teachers are overburdened, on the brink of irrevocable burnout. Teachers do not want to be school marshals. Teachers do not want bats, hammers or guns. Teachers want solutions. Teachers want to teach.
But if the Ohio legislature is any indication, Republicans don’t care about what teachers want. Ohio lawmakers hastily passed House Bill 99 after the Uvalde shooting, granting school boards the ability to permit school staff to conceal carry with a maximum of 24 hours of firearm training. (Police must complete at least 60 hours.) At the mercy of parents and online donations, teachers beg each year for school supplies, wanting to adequately stock their classrooms for young minds eager to learn, but instead of crayons and spiral notebooks, the GOP wants to give them Glocks. With Ohio teachers, parents and others pleading to keep guns out of our classrooms, the passing of House Bill 99, and its signing into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, was an act of hostility. Other Republican-controlled legislatures will almost certainly follow suit.
In support of children and education, teachers have made certain humble requests: social-emotional learning, uncensored history and access to books ― all things Republicans have made concerted efforts to oppose. With a growing teacher shortage, Republicans are successfully dismantling the institution of education, one teacher at a time. Of course, the GOP has made no secret of its disdain for teachers and public schools. For years, Republicans have tried to abolish public education under the pretext of “school choice.” Asking teachers to be armed security guards will only exacerbate the teacher shortage.
At the Uvalde massacre ― one of the few cases where a militarized police response might have been justified ― the good guys with guns instead tackled, handcuffed and pepper-sprayed parents in distress while a gunman unloaded an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, killing teachers and children. I’ve seen the video of a panicked Uvalde father being restrained on the ground outside Robb Elementary; I’ve read about a mother who snuck into the school to rescue her two children after she says she was detained by police. I am now certain that teachers are far better at handling crises than law enforcement. That much is evident when hearing Arnulfo Reyes, a fourth grade teacher in Uvalde, share his story about huddling his students under a table, doing his absolute best, and putting faith in the police officers who retreated to safety before the child who called out to them in desperation was executed.
Teachers handle crises every day without the false courage of guns or tactical gear, or the power trip of a badge. Still, the question shouldn’t be whether we ought to arm our teachers, but why we haven’t kept guns out of the hands of people capable of committing the most heinous acts of violence.
Claiming that any attempt to rein in dangerous disinformation campaigns is in fact a harbinger of an Orwellian dystopia, Republicans are now envisioning a police state for our children, eager to militarize our schools and teachers. The data is concrete, though: More guns translate to more gun deaths, school resource officers are largely ineffective at preventing shootings, and exposing children to firearms increases the risk of gun-related accidents and fatalities. The broad consensus among experts? We should keep guns out of our schools. But how do you reason with people who deliberately misconstrue expertise as elitism and hard science as a leftist scheme for the new world order? The spirit of democracy does not have to accept that all opinions are equal.
Some opinions are well supported by facts. Others are well funded by NRA blood money.
Uvalde news is beginning to fade into the background of the overwhelming chatter that is American media. Other headlines clutter our news feeds ― Depp Wins Libel Suit; Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration; Sandberg Steps Down From Facebook Parent Company ― as if they shared the same significance as 19 children and two adults slaughtered. Do not be distracted. Let the reactionary lawmakers frantically pushing harmful legislation serve as motivation: This will happen, again. None of us are exempt from America’s gun violence, and arming teachers is not the solution.
I haven’t bought the bulletproof backpack insert yet. And I don’t want to. I am, perhaps naively, hoping Republican lawmakers will do the right thing, instead of making parents resort to bulletproofing their children and adding “campus security guard” to the list of roles we expect teachers to play.