The teacher-student relationship is one that can take many different forms, from trusted advisor to authoritarian dictator. For those of us who work to build healthy relationships with our students, we understand that it takes time and patience to develop a trusting relationship where students feel safe to talk to you about what is most important in their lives. For some students, the relationships that they have with their teachers are the healthiest ones they will have with an adult. Having adults other than their parents who understand and care about students is a gift to our society.
When we introduce a gun into the equation of this relationship, we disrupt the feeling of safety that many students have. While the National Rifle Association (NRA) would posit that students feel safer if their teacher has a gun, I would argue otherwise. I want to emphasize the word safe because I am referring to both emotional and physical safety. The power dynamic in this relationship is such that teachers have the ultimate control, no matter how well the student and teacher get along. Building a relationship based in safety and trust is difficult when you know that the powerbroker in the relationship can shoot you. It is impossible to build a trusting relationship in the presence of a gun, even if it is concealed. The knowledge that a deadly weapon is available casts a shadow on any interaction.
Additionally, kids know that sometimes other kids get out of control emotionally. They are smart enough to know that if there is a gun in the room, even if it is on the teacher’s body or locked up, there is a possibility that an angry student could get ahold of the gun. On top of that, there are instances where teachers who are already armed at school have discharged their guns accidentally. This leads to students feeling less safe than more safe. The anxiety of knowing that there is a gun in the room, no matter how well-trained the teacher is, is an unwanted and unneeded distraction when kids are trying to learn.
We also know that for students of color, having an armed teacher could be incredibly intimidating. Whether the racial bias is implicit or not, we know that students of color are disciplined and expelled at higher rates than other students. In an NPR interview, Stephanie Gates, a black teacher in Chicago, points out that if a teacher of color like herself is pursuing a school shooter, the police are more likely to subconsciously believe that she is the shooter and kill her. She also explained that when black students who come from high crime areas see an increased police presence, it raises their level of stress. They feel less comfortable, not more comfortable knowing that a gun is in the room.
Teachers are employed to teach students not only academic content but to be trusted adults in each child’s life. They are not employed to be police officers, school resource officers, or infantry soldiers. The relationships that teachers and students build are paramount for excellent learning to happen. Let teachers do their jobs without the disruption of their relationships with their students. We already know that teachers will protect their students to the best of their ability. Instead of imposing an entirely new job on top of their other responsibilities, let’s improve the security at schools with other personnel.