Before We Start Arming Teachers, A Thought

[Content Note: Guns; abuse.]

Not all teachers are nice to their students.

I make that observation as the daughter of two public school teachers who were very kind to and very beloved by their students—and who did not like the teachers who weren't kind to their students.

I make that observation also as the friend of multiple public school teachers. Two of my best friends from high school are now public high school teachers themselves. My oldest friend, A, who I have literally known since the first day of kindergarten, is a public high school teacher. My godfather is a retired public school teacher. I keep in contact with some of my favorite public school teachers.

And I make that observation as the friend and colleague of many educators in traditional academic roles and nontraditional educator positions.

I know a lot of great teachers. They are all very kind to and very beloved by their students. And they, too, do not like the teachers who aren't kind to their students.

Most schools have one or two—or more, depending on the size of the staff. I went to a high school with 3,000+ students and my graduating class was nearly 700 in number. The school employed hundreds of teachers, and some of them were actively unkind to their students. They had reputations among the students, and among the other teachers.

Every teacher who is kind to their students is pretty contemptuous of the ones who aren't. If you are a teacher or grew up around teachers, the question, "Why is X even in teaching when they seem to hate kids?!" is not an unfamiliar question.

Because some teachers are bullies.

There are teachers who form cliques with some students while marginalizing others. There are teachers who make fun of students in front of the class. There are teachers who negatively fixate on certain students for reasons only they know. There are teachers who physically hurt and/or sexually exploit some of their students.

They are a minority.

But if we're talking about putting guns in the hands of public school teachers, this minority of teachers—and administrators—who do abuse their students needs to be part of that conversation.

Do we want those teachers having guns?

It's easy to say, "Well, those teachers shouldn't be teaching in the first place," but that's not practical. Abusive teachers can stay in the profession for entire careers—and, despite conservative tropes, it's not just down to a powerful teachers' union who protects every teacher, no matter how shitty. It's because, like virtually everywhere else in the country, abuse is underreported, privilege is privileged, and the victim-blaming narratives of an entire culture of abuse serve as the backdrop for "dealing with" students and parents who report mistreatment.

Arming teachers will only entrench that dynamic.

You see, it's not that I imagine even the bulliest of teachers is likely to use a gun on a student in a fit of pique. (Although, yeah, that could happen, too.) It's that there's already a huge power imbalance that discourages students from reporting teachers for abusive behaviors.

Now imagine if that abusive teacher has a gun.

Teachers need to have authority to do their jobs effectively, but they should not hold so much power over students that they are able to abuse them with impunity. Students should be empowered to advocate for their own safety without fear of reprisal—and adding deadly weaponry to what is already an institutional power differential further complicated by age and experience, if not additional privileges like gender and race, is robbing students further of what little control they have.

If we're genuinely interested in protecting students from terror and harm, arming teachers isn't the way to do it.

[I have made this point in comments and on Twitter, but I thought it deserved a post of its own. Also see Aphra's excellent piece, I'm a Professor, Not a SWAT Team Member, which is another crucial piece of this conversation.]

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