"I Am Not John Wayne"

Jonathan Bennett

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There’s an interesting thing happening in the debate about gun control right now.

Teachers are being thrust into the forefront of the conversation, which is weird since this only really happens when there’s a sex scandal or a teacher strike or buy-one-get-one at Chipotle for Teacher Appreciation Week (do teachers really deserve a free burrito?)

Teachers are being cast as potential action movie characters clothed in dry-erase-marker-stained khakis, a school polo worn twice a week, and brown faux-leather mules (John Wayne rode horses, so that’s kind of close I guess).

Teachers are being asked to train for warfare in addition to the constant training in pedagogy, child development, test prep, analyzing data, school procedures, random bureaucratic paperwork, how to balance our own lives, how to brew a decent cup of coffee, and how to break caffeine addiction.

Teachers (myself being one) have to think about accommodating learning discrepancies and deficiencies. We have to think about how to organize desks and seating arrangements. We have to worry about lessons plans and unit plans and curriculum plans. We have to worry about meeting PD requirements. We have to worry about assessments demanded by politicians with little-to-no experience in the classroom. We have to worry about how we’ll find time to give 100 papers timely and thorough feedback. We have to worry about tornado drills, fire drills, earthquakes drills, active-shooter drills, and power drills (if shop class still exists). We have to worry about evaluations and accommodations and immunizations.

We have to worry about standardized test scores while worrying about how Student A is dealing with his mother’s death and how Student B is going to get on track after missing a week due to illness and how Student C is in a crazy downward spiral that’s causing him/her to act out in class and how Student D is shutting down and won’t let us in and how Student E and Student F used to be friends but are now feuding and its effecting the entire grade and how Student G doesn’t have enough money for clean clothes and food for when he/she gets home and how Student Q is somewhere in outer space.

We are tasked with managing 20+ distinct personalities in a tightly closed setting–each student bringing their own distinct baggage to our already emotion laden lives. We are asked to (and we gladly will) grieve with our students, challenge them, discipline them, educate them, comfort them, coach them, and absorb all the crap they deal with in and out of the school walls. Now you want us to shoot them?

Teachers should not have to worry about a locked gun we may or may not use. We should not be arming teachers in a country that is not facing a constant enemy threat due to geographic proximity and an active war. We should not give teachers a fraction of the training that we give police and military and then expect teachers to react like a war-hero. We should not expect people like me to wield weapons of destruction in a place of learning.

I’ve seen and (sort of) helped break up more than a handful of fights.

Quite a few times, I stood almost right next to the fight. Every time, I temporarily froze. And every time, I was glad no one had a gun…including the staff.

Here’s why:

Even the smallest fight might be cause for an over-reacting teacher to pull a gun. And then who knows what will happen. Also, we live in a society where different races are viewed as being more violent and more “adult” than peers of their same age but of different races. The reactions of the predominately white staff will be different.

We are emotional creatures, fallible beyond our own understanding. I’ve seen plenty of teachers breakdown over the course of the day. The weight of society’s expectations and the pain we assume from our students is heavy. Kids can be brutal–they don’t always know better, and worse, sometimes they do. Imagine if a distraught teacher knew a gun was close by.

But let’s look at the mass shootings that have happened: a barely trained gun handler will not shoot with precision. It takes time, practice, and skill to assess volatile situations. It takes years of training to automate crisis response. And it takes years of practice to be an expert marksman.

But of course, in the minds of some, Ms. Smith will be able to pick-off the AR-15 blasting teen from 100 yards away with the single-shot of a handgun through the running mob of people while also avoiding the influence of the flying bullets and surging adrenaline pumping through her veins. Maybe the Science department will convene in a stairwell, cock their guns and nod at each other before pouring into the hallway with military precision (you know, checking corners, giving back-up, signing out commands–which they have memorized and practiced– in a perfectly synchronized attack on a target).

Also, kids, especially teens, are mischievous, brash, and prone to wonder into bad decisions because it’s part of their development: they like to test boundaries and engage in risk-taking behaviors.

If you think they won’t figure out how to get into a box to retrieve a gun, then you are obviously not in education and you might have raised the kid who you think is a perfect angel but is a terror at school (and you won’t believe me when I tell you). As certain as I am that I will find students beginning for extra credit at the end of the quarter, I can guarantee that some student will try to break in, even if it is as a joke or a test of their abilities. Hopefully they won’t do it so they can get their revenge or so they can get a way out.

If you are scanning this article because it is too long, stop here and read below (and, please, pick up a book once in a while)

Guns have no place in school. Even if it mitigates the damage of one mass shooting, the amount of damage that guns provide will offset it (either accidentally, maliciously, or self-inflictedly).

We are not living in a war zone. So while I am not an expert in policy and economics, I think the time has come to ask ourselves why anyone needs more than ten bullets and a semi-automatic weapon…

…and why we are more willing to pour resources into arming our schools instead of equipping them to address our students’ socio-emotional-psychological health.

What do I know? I’m just a teacher. The answer to these questions are beyond me (or my pay grade).

*Note: There’s a typo in the last paragraph before the bolded comment. In the fourth line I say “beginning” when I meant to say “begging.” Literally two hours before I wrote this, one of my ELL students made the exact mistake but in reverse (saying “begging” when they meant to say “beginning.”) I like that I made this mistake. So I’m keeping it. 

A born and bred Midwesterner, Jon Bennett graduated from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati and went on to Miami University. He spent a year pretending to be a business major until his love of English kicked down his door and demanded attention.

After receiving his Masters Degree in Teaching Language Arts, he student-taught at a secondary school in Belmopan, Belize. From there, he spent 6 years teaching in Chicago’s public schools, where he met some of the most inspiring, frustrating, wonderful students and faculty in the world. It was in Chicago, in lane #2 of the local Bally’s Fitness swimming pool, that he met his brilliant, talented and much-hotter-than-him, future-wife Nicole. During the final summer of their stay in Chicago, Nicole gave birth to their daughter Charlotte, who is already cooler and more adventurous than her father.

He currently lives and works in Southern California.