When I became a teacher 15 years ago, I really didn’t think much about school shootings. Columbine captivated my attention during college, but it seemed like a once in a lifetime type of tragedy.
Throughout my career I have always worried about whether or not I have done enough for my students. Are they learning enough? Are they thinking enough? Are they feeling loved? Do they truly feel heard? Do they truly feel seen? Some nights I lay awake worrying about them, wondering what else I can do to make sure they have what they need.
I believe my job as an educator is to create a space where students feel safe. Where they can feel unafraid. That has always been my number one goal because I understand that if students do not feel safe, they cannot learn. I want them to feel safe enough to be completely who they are. Safe enough to take risks, and safe enough to ask hard questions. I want them to feel safe enough to speak their truths, and to share their stories. I want them to feel safe enough to reach out and ask for help.
And to create this sense of safety, I do believe I need to be armed.
But not with a gun.
Not with a weapon.
Not with the power to end life.
Teachers need to be armed with resources. With support systems. With partnerships. When one of our babies is hurting, we need to be armed with supplies to help heal them. We need to be armed with a mental health care system that doesn’t involve waiting lists, and red tape, and continual funding cuts.
Schools need to be places where hungry kids are fed. Where disconnected kids are engaged. Where kids struggling with anxiety, depression, and mental illness can be connected to free therapeutic services. Schools need to be places where students who are struggling with impossible lives can learn about resilience, and hope, and bravery. I know districts like this exist, because I am lucky enough to teach in one.
Teachers are on the front lines of this fight, so please arm us accordingly. Expand mental health services, increase public education funds, and empower us to keep our students safe. We can do this.
I never thought I would have to ask myself if I was willing to literally die for my students. I never thought I would have to wonder if my own children’s teachers were willing to die for them. But I am willing. And I bet they are, too.
We are teachers. We are called to challenge our students to think critically, to write, to speak up, and to dream. We’ve been trained to educate them, to meet them where they are, and to inspire them to take leaps forward.
We are warriors, but we do not need weapons.