Guns-in-school plan raises serious questions

I am a proud member of the generation of women for whom there were three career choices: nurse, secretary or teacher. Many of my friends nationwide chose teaching. Today our daughters are succeeding in careers that were closed to us: doctors, lawyers, business CEOs, journalists, professors and countless others. Almost none of our children teach in elementary or secondary schools.

Pay and prestige are key elements when today's college students choose careers, along with a genuine interest in some field of work. Teachers will never be paid at the level of other professionals, nor does their position carry the prestige it deserves. What it offers is a unique opportunity to work with children, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and help them succeed academically and emotionally during their formative school years. For me that was reward enough.

But today's teachers face challenges my generation never contemplated. Starting with the No Child Left Behind Act a decade ago through the soon-to-be-implemented Common Core State Standards, teachers are to be praised or punished based on students' standardized test scores. The emphasis on teachers' accountability, imposed by strict government policies, ignores each child's unique qualities and learning conditions beyond teachers' control.

Other issues facing today's teachers include large college loan debt, difficult to pay off on a teacher's salary and students' access to social media via hand-held high-tech gadgets. Cyberspace bullying of students and teachers is part of the new reality in our schools.

Why would today's bright college students choose to become schoolteachers? Especially when schools may want teachers to carry guns. What effect will that policy will have on recruiting future teachers?

My teaching career spanned the 1960s through the 1990s, with several time outs. In those final years I taught math at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, a magnet school for grades 7-12. Our students, bused from all over Los Angeles, reflected racial and socio-economic diversity. I taught five classes of 35-40 students each semester, ranging from remedial to honors level. Students who made a consistent effort were usually successful. Most were well-behaved; some were occasionally disruptive.

Like most secondary schools, our campus included several buildings, two floors of classrooms and spacious playgrounds. During the school day, doors were locked to outsiders. Visitors were admitted through a security-screened front office. We had one campus police officer; I don't know if he was armed.

I cannot imagine teaching my algebra students in our crowded classroom knowing various staff members were armed with loaded guns. Having taught in three schools during my career, I cannot picture any of my colleagues volunteering to carry loaded guns in school. Would that be part of a job interview, asking whether a teacher of English or science or history is willing to keep a loaded gun in his or her desk? Would one's accuracy at the shooting range be a hiring factor? The few young teachers I know are caring and sensitive men and women who would refuse to be armed; might that cost them their job?

Would all faculty and staff know which among them is armed? Would tactical deployment require that someone in each building or floor or department have a loaded gun? I remember having little faith in the so-called "locked desk drawer" for storing my purse during the school day. How secure would it be for a gun? If armed staff are to be a deterrent to campus violence, then the school community must know there are loaded guns and people willing to use them. Who can guarantee that inquisitive or daredevil students won't seek them out? Have those proposing school personnel be armed ever taught large classes of teenagers, or surveyed their dedicated teachers?

In the rare event of an "episode" on a school campus, what would an armed teacher be expected to do? Unless he or she is carrying the weapon, how long would it take to access it? Would the priority be to protect students in one's classroom, or to enter the hallways searching out the trouble? Try to imagine teachers you have known and admired shooting at people under severe stress in hopes of stopping the bad guys. What if they miss?

I personally would not want to teach in a school where various personnel are armed; there are enough pressures on today's teachers and students without the presence of loaded guns. I would worry about my grandchildren attending a school known to have weapons scattered about. And I wonder what effect such a policy will have on attracting bright, personable young people into the already demoralized teaching profession.

Betty R. Kazmin of Medford taught algebra for 20 years in Los Angeles public and private secondary schools, and served on the board of education in Willard, Ohio.

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