Guns in Schools? Just Say, “No.”

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So, in the years after the tragedy of Sandy Hook, we are still hearing about arming teachers as both a deterrent and solution to school shootings.

Deterrent? That presupposes rational thought. Someone who takes an automatic weapon into a school clearly isn’t rational. Before advocating arming teachers, the president himself declared this shooter was mentally ill.

Solution? You would think that losing 20 first graders and six of their adult caretakers would have jarred us into the recognition that the answer to gun violence isn’t simply more guns.

It would be arrogant to pretend to believe in a quick and easy solution to this deadly and swelling problem. However, with 25+ years’ experience in NY public schools comes insight into what teaching entails and why adding marksmanship to our professional duties is not an appropriate response.

Image result for classroom images   A good teacher makes what happens in a classroom every day look easy. Learning flourishes through a series of choreographed procedures and high expectations. Reading. Writing. Mathematical calculations. Critical thinking.  Kids learn to share and take turns. As members of a well-oiled learning community, they learn to see themselves as part of something bigger than they are.  They learn to take academic risks, that mistakes don’t equal failure, that success isn’t defined by the number of times they mess up, but rather by how they respond to error.

Teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of a reluctant scholar. Teachers create lessons to capitalize on inquisitiveness. They are expected to turn in positive standardized test scores. They communicate with families, file paperwork, grade student work. In many parts of the country, teachers are working with finite budgets, doing what they can with severely limited supplies.

And embedded in those daily routines are hundreds of unpredictable distractions. Sick kids. Angry kids. Frustrated kids. Hungry kids. Lonely kids. Most teachers know their work isn’t just about content area instruction. Good teachers understand they have to shift gears to address issues as they arise. Great teachers do it all seamlessly.

Anyone who thinks this all happens easily has never been alone with 25 third graders after recess or introduced the classical source-based argument to middle schoolers or set sophomores lose in a chem lab.

In any profession, what happens behind the scenes is not always apparent to an outsider. This is simply a description of the job teachers choose because it is what they love to do.

Which brings us back to the question of arming teachers.  

The idea of arming teachers is a knee jerk reaction, a quick tweet if you will, that raises more questions than it answers. It is the response of an outsider whose understanding of what happens in a school, in a classroom, is limited to a few characters in social media.

What kind of professional development would teachers be given to carry a concealed weapon?  Please don’t tell me this will be about those already trained.  A weapon in a classroom is not like a gun anywhere else. Schools are not sparsely inhabited forests and despite the potential for unexpected violence, schools are not battlefields. A teacher who hunts, a teacher who has handled guns all her life, even a teacher who has been deployed is not—is not—qualified to manage a fire arm in a school.  Unlike the TV shoot-outs we see, the accuracy of even the most carefully trained marksmen in emergency situations is far less than one hundred percent.

And then there are the variables that inevitably arise: What if the shooter is a student the armed teacher knows, has a relationship with, likes? What if the teacher kills a child through friendly fire? What if police mistake the armed teacher for the shooter? Does the armed teacher leave kids unprotected in her own classroom to find the shooter?

This argument does not even begin to take into account the purpose of schools.

Arming teachers is not the answer. Limiting access to weapons of war is a start. Private individual do not need an AR 15. These are military guns designed for one goal: killing a lot of people quickly.  Gun control is not about taking guns away from people. It is about common sense and societal responsibility. The fact that controlling fire arms has devolved into a political argument speaks to the current state of our nation.

Image result for guns in schools   Longer term, as a society, we need to be looking at the whys of this phenomena. Why are so many young men—it is primarily boys who commit these acts—doing this? Why aren’t we doing more to support these kids before they kill? Why has our cultural climate led to repeated gun violence?

 

The kids of Parkland, the kids around the nation represent hope. Kids are demanding that adults quit the obstinate fight over gun rights and make some changes.  As a teacher, I see hope for the future in this generation. As an adult, I am listening to them.

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Enriching Reading in Secondary Classes Via Selected Non-Fiction Texts

Image result for images of kids reading black and white The Common Core has rightfully taken a good deal of heat. Rushed implementation. Invalid exams. Student scores tied to teacher evaluations.  Families and schools soon showed signs of test-fatigue.  Eventually, public criticism led to test boycotts and demands for reform.

The Common Core isn’t all bad, though. English teachers have always loved close reading and supported argument.   And though initially, my literary heart broke when I was told that, by senior year, seventy percent of students’ reading would be non-fiction, I soon discovered integrating informational texts into curriculum maps could be a win-win.

My Confessions

Like many secondary English teachers, after seeing Common Core prototypes, I started out using non-fiction as test-prep. If kids were going to have to read about science and social studies on state exams, and if I would be rated on their performance, then everyone would benefit from a little structured practice. As a trusted colleague put it: “You wouldn’t take the road test without practicing a three-point turn and parallel parking.”  I found articles that seemed interesting and wrote multiple choice questions and created writing prompts to parallel our ever evolving state tests.

And for what it was worth, this worked. Reading about the science of climate change did sharpen comprehension skills. Practice answering multiple choice questions did make kids feel more confident. Timed writing rehearsal promoted efficient test taking. Scores improved.

But stand-alone test prep ate up too much class time. Random readings—as interesting as they might be—weren’t doing much to help struggling scholars crack the historical code in Act 1 of The Crucible or to challenge high fliers to test the science in Jack London’s To Build a Fire.

There Are Many Advantages

Integrating meaningful non-fiction into secondary English classes not only improves test scores and strengthen skills, but enriches the core reading experience for all kids. The key word here is meaningful. Texts have to contribute to an enriched reading experience. Non-fiction must correspond to core readings.  Thoughtfully chosen pre-reading texts, build a base of prior knowledge that supports all readers. Through informational texts, kids can dig into the setting of a literary text. They can experience the science of the conflict between man and nature.  They can evaluate historical or scientific accuracy. Post reading texts can provide information to confirm or refute messages in literary works, promoting critical evaluation.  Incidentally, prior knowledge and critical evaluation also contribute to higher reading comprehension scores on standardized tests.  You can use these texts as a vehicle for differentiation.  You can use these non-fiction readings as mentor texts, too.

Where to Find Informational Texts

Finding sound texts that actually go with the core reading in your classroom means you have to be an avid reader. Considering the amount of time teaching English demands, this is no small task. But good sources for non-fiction might already be on your nightstand or doorstep.

  •  Image result for images of the new york times  The New York Times—Contrary to popular belief, the Times isn’t beyond most secondary students. The reading level in the NYT has been estimated at seventh grade. Kids can learn to apply contextual cues to puzzle out unfamiliar vocabulary.  The Times features science articles, opinion pieces, human interest, travel, book reviews as well as current events.  If you search the archives, there is almost always something you can use with any core literary text.
  •    Image result for images of sports illustrated covers   Sports Illustrated—It may sound crazy, but the heroes in sports and the heroes in literature frequently share character traits: resilience, determination, endurance. The language used in sports reporting is colorful and engaging. Kids get reading experience with varied text structures.
  • Image result for images of national geographic  National Geographic (for both kids and adults)– NG can take kids to faraway places that can coincide with settings in literary texts. Brilliant photos can bring these places to life.
  •  Image result for images of historic documents  Historical documents—Social Studies teachers use primary source historical documents all the time. English teachers not so much. For literary texts centered on historical events, documents can be a link to the past.
  •  Image result for images of autobiography books  Autobiographies—Personal accounts often correspond to fictionalized stories. Students can extract messages about people/characters who have found ways to leave a  mark on their worlds.
  • Image result for images of science booksExcerpts from books in school and public libraries–Use these resources to fill in the blanks about science, history, economics, law.

Image result for images of kids reading black and whiteWhat constitutes “literature” continues to evolve. We have an obligation to prepare kids for life beyond tests, beyond our classrooms. Academic success lies in curiosity, in critical thinking, in self direction. Making informational readings organic elements of the secondary English class experience supports all of these.