Why America Trusts Teachers To Save Lives But Not Talk About Racism?

Allison Gaines 6-8 minutes 6/11/2022


They don't mind teachers risking their lives but want to censor them on critical social issues.

Photo by Gaining Visuals on Unsplash

In America, public education is an engine of social mobility, providing students with an opportunity to learn and prepare for their future. Sadly, teaching in a public school setting is becoming less desirable by the day, and that's no shade to students. The blatant disregard for teachers' safety during the pandemic, the risk of gun violence, and racist attempts to scrub the curriculum of Black literature are contributing to a mass exodus of teachers.

Society has to make up its mind. Are public school teachers supposed to be glorified babysitters that watch children so parents can work, are they supposed to be armed guards putting their lives on the line, or are educators responsible for providing students with the academic tools they need to succeed? And if society expects teachers to do it all, then why do public school teachers make so little?

In April, the National Education Association suggested that "salaries are not keeping up with inflation" and that the average teacher's salary was less than ten years ago. In one survey, 95% of teachers said their school budget did not provide enough supplies to last throughout the school year. The idea of arming teachers when public schools struggle to maintain sufficient funding for basic supplies is ridiculous. In some of America's largest cities, police departments receive the largest slice of the budget, so if anyone is responsible for keeping students safe — it's the police, not teachers.

Then, there's the matter of race. In America, Black students are "subject to disciplinary action at rates much higher than their White counterparts." Black parents I've spoken to since the tragedy in Uvalde are concerned that armed teachers could contribute to Black students experiencing injuries due to bias or blatant racism of teachers. One study showed White teachers are more likely to perceive Black faces as angry than White students. Some are worried about how arming teachers with racial bias might play out in the classroom. And while we should be asking important questions about race-neutral policy proposals, we must also consider the teachers' voices. So let’s dig into their side of the “teachers with guns” debate.

According to a Texas American Federation of Teachers report, most teachers do not want to be armed "or expected to intercept a gunman" in the classroom. So, rather than "arming teachers" or yelling at teachers about how bad of an idea it is to arm them, we should consider that most teachers never asked to be armed in the first place and actively oppose such policies, even in a red state like Texas. Of course, if conservatives continue to push the "arm teachers" rhetoric, teachers may be asked to risk their lives, and I hate to break it to parents and politicians — but that's too much to ask.

As a Ph.D. student, none of my classes prepared me for an armed confrontation with someone carrying an assault rifle. So even though I will be qualified to teach college courses after graduation, I have no plans of entering the public school system as a teacher, as my grandmother did. There's insufficient support or consideration for teachers in the public school system. One of my friends asked, "what can parents do to improve it?" I responded: vote for change and show up at school board meetings. Teachers deserve to make a living wage and have their voices heard in the debate about gun safety and teaching about race in the classroom.

While public school teachers are responsible for maintaining a safe learning environment, expecting them to become warriors is a step too far, especially from the same conservatives who claim teachers can't be trusted to teach students about racism or gender identity. Somehow, conservative Americans trust teachers to take bullets, guarding their children's lives but not teaching them about racism — it's an insult to the profession. It's hard to be a teacher these days because America is trying to have it both ways, insisting that teachers are essential and valued and pursuing policies that show otherwise.

A study published by Elizabeth D. Steiner and Ashley Woo indicated that at the end of the 2020–2021 school year, one in four teachers expressed a desire to leave their jobs, and Black teachers were even more likely to leave their position. The stress, racism, and violence in the classroom are not what educators signed up for when pursuing this career track. But, we could have seen this coming.

As many parents struggled to find childcare during the early days of the pandemic, some policymakers demanded teachers return to in-person classrooms, where they risked their lives to provide students with an education. So, I wondered whether this is the new American standard, that public school teachers, some of the country's lowest-paid essential workers, would now be expected to put their lives on the line in new and terrifying ways to protect their students. And I'm not sure that our society’s given their answer yet.

One thing’s for sure — arming teachers is not an appropriate method of keeping children safe in school. But, we should also cast aside the narrative that teachers want to be armed or put their students in danger. Morale is low, and appreciating teachers should not be confined to a week in the month of May. The public needs to know that if nothing changes, you can expect more teachers to leave the profession and fewer students to pursue careers in public education.

If you think teachers should be willing to die for their students but forbid them from discussing critical social issues like racism, then you're blatantly willing to use teachers as human shields, all the while refusing to respect their expertise in teaching age-appropriate content. You’re saying that teachers are good enough to guard students’ bodies but not nurture their minds. The political attempts to arm teachers in response to mass shootings while simultaneously censoring them feel like a slap in the face. To save the profession, Americans will have to start listening to teachers and ensuring they have a seat at the table because it’s pretty obscene to ask teachers to risk their lives in the classroom while telling them their voices don’t matter.

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