The country is engaged in a debate about whether teachers should be armed, a proposal made by President Trump in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a South Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
Student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland have become vocal about pushing state and federal lawmakers — as well as Trump — to take action to restrict access to guns. And teachers have started a #ArmMeWith social media campaign in which they are sounding off on what they really need in classrooms to do their jobs.
Trump’s proposal to arm some teachers has sparked a wave of protest from educators, who say their job is to teach, not carry guns. In the post below, art history teacher Rebecca Berlin Field of Douglas S. Freeman High School in Virginia’s Henrico County school district criticizes the refusal of policymakers to take action to keep teachers and students safe.
“Instead of making dead teachers into saints, make them safer when they are still alive,” she writes.
Here is her open letter to elected officials, which she published on Medium.com and gave me permission to post.
Dear every elected official,
Nowhere in my contract does it state that if the need arises, I have to shield students from gunfire with my own body. If it did, I wouldn’t have signed it. I love my job. I love my students. I am also a mother with two amazing daughters. I am a wife of a wonderful man. I have a dog that I adore. I don’t want to die defending other people’s children; I want to teach kindness and responsibility … and art history.
That’s what I am supposed to do each day. Blocking bullets? I am not supposed to do that.
I imagine that if someone was trying to kill my students, that I would try to save them with all my being. I probably would jump on top of a child to save her life. And yes, I might be one of those heroic teachers that the media writes tributes to after their death.
But I am furious that I would have to make this sacrifice. I am incensed that my own children would lose their mother because I chose to be a teacher.
I chose to be a teacher knowing that on most days I would not be able to use the bathroom until 4 p.m. I chose teaching knowing that I would be grading papers all weekend and working far beyond the hours of my contract. I chose to teach even though it meant that I would miss every awards assembly and field trip that my daughters asked me to attend.
I even signed up to sit in a counselor’s office with a teenager on my lap, holding her as she sobbed through an anxiety attack. I signed up to ask a child if they were considering committing suicide and then relaying this terrifying information to a parent. It seems like a lot to agree to, but truly I knew what I was getting into.
I did not sign up to be ripped apart by a spray of bullets that came from a semi-automatic rifle. At the end of my teaching contract, it says that I will perform “other duties to be assigned.” I do not interpret these words “as bleeding to death on the floor of my classroom.”
The anger that courses through my body after a school shooting in this country is accompanied by pure panic. I am terrified of my own children dying in school, first and foremost, but I am also terrified that the responsibility that sits on my shoulders as a teacher is far greater than I can rationally accept.
On Back to School Night, I look out at the gazes of the parents in front of me as we silently make a pact. “I am giving you the most precious part of me with the knowledge that you will shield my child’s body with your own when the need arises.” They say this with their eyes. I agree to this responsibility and make a silent unbreakable oath before them. As I am telling them about the 20,000 years of global art history that I will be teaching their child, I am also agreeing to die. When I am in the parent’s place at my daughter’s school, I am asking the same of her teacher. This teacher may end up being the only thing blocking a bullet aimed for my daughter’s head.
I am furious.
How dare you force me to choose between my own children and those that I teach? How dare you allow powerful adults who love guns to be more important than a generation of children growing up in fear?
I don’t want to spend mornings memorizing my children’s clothing so I can identify them later. I don’t want to spend professional development hours learning how to save a few more lives by setting up barricades. Sometimes when a kid is driving me crazy in class I think to myself: “Would I die for you? Would I lose everything to save you from harm?” I have my moments when I shake my head NO.
Instead of making dead teachers into saints, make them safer when they are still alive. Make it possible for schools to have smaller class sizes so that we can get to know our students and look out for the ones who need help. Hire more counselors and school nurses and social workers and psychologists so that many people are caring for each child. HELP us prevent this.
Take away guns from people who will murder us. Stop taking money from the NRA and proving how soulless you are. Keep us safe so I can do my job.
How dare you put me into constant danger so that you can be reelected? How dare you make me choose between saving children or making my own children motherless?
How dare you make me into a hero when I just want to teach?