This screen-shot of reports 387 school shootings since 1992.
A school teacher offers a real world lesson
Lindsay Rodriguez

As a teacher, the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut hits uncomfortably close to home.

When something like this happens, we whisper to each other in the hall between classes: “Have you seen what’s going on? Can you believe it?”

We check the news online to try to get answers and information as it unfolds. We process the news in a state of shock. We stay numb to get through the day, but in the back of our minds, we know something like that could happen here. You can’t dwell on it because you wouldn’t be able to function, but the thought lingers.

Last year, I read the amazing book, “Columbine,” by Dave Cullen. One thing that stuck with me was how much misinformation came out in the aftermath of that tragedy, and how that continues to be the case after every shooting. We encourage it in a way: we want answers now, and the media scrambles to give us what we want.

We try to keep up with all of it, as if that will lead us to how something so terrible could have been prevented. We speak about school shootings as a single phenomena, and the changing nature of the shooters, their motives and the grisly details make it impossible to know how to prevent the next tragedy.

This screen-shot of reports 387 school shootings since 1992. Click the map for detail.

It feels surreal to consider that arming teachers is being proposed as a way to protect our schools, but that’s exactly the answer that some elected officials (especially Gov. Rick Perry) are preaching. Many educators I have talked to can’t even fathom being armed. Some teachers , of course, do own guns. Some are regular gun users, some are collectors, but I don’t know any teachers who want to bring guns into the classroom.

I don’t speak for all teachers. There has been a flood of teachers taking advantage of gun training programs.

It’s worth noting that many of these same politicians happen to be the ones who criticize teachers as overpaid and too lazy to be trusted to unionize and collectively bargain. Now they champion us as potential sharpshooters. There is a disconnect between what these politicians think we do every day and what we actually do, and it’s a shame that the people making education policy don’t recognize that.

If gun violence victims were speaking up in favor of having more armed guards, I think we’d need to listen to them. However, they are almost always the most outspoken proponents of a more regulated gun industry. The latest example is former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who with her husband astronaut Mark Kelly, launched a gun control group called Americans for Responsible Solutions, on January 8, the second anniversary of the tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.

January 24, 2012: “One of the most memorable moments of the year was when the President hugged Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as he walked onto the floor of the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol to deliver his annual State of the Union address.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Giffords, along with 18 other people (including 9 year old Christina Taylor-Green, whose parents also are in favor of gun control laws), were shot while she was meeting with her constituents at a local supermarket.

She offers a succinct opinion about the level of gun violence in America: “Enough.”

Giffords herself is a gun owner and supports Second Amendment rights, but in the must-read op-ed piece she and her husband wrote for USA Today:

We have experienced too much death and hurt to remain idle. Our response to the Newtown massacre must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve fellow citizens and leaders who have the will to prevent gun violence in the future.”

These shootings scare families because they take place in communities where most middle-class families believe violence isn’t “supposed to happen,” that is, in middle-class suburbs. Many kids in America go to school every day in violent environments. For them, gun violence is an issue not limited to school grounds – they experience it daily in their neighborhoods, and sadly, sometimes at home. They experience PTSD-like symptoms that make it hard to concentrate in school and harder still to hope and dream for bigger things. More than 400 people have died from gun-related violence since the Newtown massacre, some of them children and teenagers.

More guns are not going to make the world a safer place, but more  support for community and school mental health programs can make us safer.

I’m fortunate to work for a school, Henry Ford Academy: The Alameda School for Art + Design, that has an amazing counselor as our first line of defense against these kinds of tragedies.

Image from Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School Art + Design.

Counselors are important members of any school staff, yet many schools are operating without them. Budget cuts to education in Texas are forcing most schools to steadily cut support staff, including counselors who can help students deal with the turmoil and confusion of being an adolescent. Our school fosters a community environment, where students know they can talk privately to an adult who really cares about them .

Our counselor is a highly trained professional who knows the names of most of our students, and who often gets to know their families and the circumstances behind a failing test score.

Because we have a very small student body, it’s possible to at least try to get to know each child. Many larger schools don’t have counselors, share counseling staff with entire districts, or they function more as career counselors (they help fill out applications and scholarship paperwork instead of dealing with emotional problems or mental illness). Our school has made it a priority to try to watch out for our children beyond their academic performance. Again, we are lucky to have the resources to do that.

Don’t get me wrong: Owning a gun, learning how to use that gun, operating a gun, and keeping that gun away from children are important responsibilities that a vast majority of gun owners agree with.

However, these are not responsibilities I want.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I would want to carry a gun into the classroom. It’s not something you think about when taking your teaching certification tests, worrying about how your kids are going to do this year, setting up your classroom for the year and planning engaging projects for your students. “Where am I going to keep my gun?” never occurs to most of us.

I go to school every day knowing that I will take care of, protect and teach my kids to the best of my abilities. I didn’t sign up for this job to be a soldier or a cop. I abhor violence and can’t imagine pulling a trigger. I don’t want to be tasked with the responsibility of deciding when, where, or why I’d shoot someone.

Lindsay Rodriguez was born and (mostly) raised here in San Antonio, moved away in middle school to Spokane, WA and then Atlanta, GA before coming home to finish college at the University of the Incarnate Word. Lindsay majored in fashion and business, but left the corporate world after a few years to teach. A lifelong nerd, she teaches high school social studies with a focus in discussion as well as community engagement and participation. She found a great school for that mission, Henry Ford Academy: The Alameda School for Art + Design, in downtown San Antonio, and started there this school year. It’s a small charter school with a focus on integrating art into education to increase engagement and graduation rates.