Proudly Unarmed on the Front Lines

I am a teacher and I will never, ever bring a gun near my students. If you want to know why, read on. If knowing this automatically paints me as a liberal crybaby, whining about guns, then I think you should definitely keep reading. Because this isn’t about whining. This isn’t an abstract situation. I am one of the people who is responsible for your children from 8am-3pm, five days a week. Consider this a report from the front lines of a battlefield that affects every single American in every single state, city and suburb.

I don’t know how or when this happened, but at some point in my transition from young adulthood to “full-on” adulthood, I learned to love listening to National Public Radio. Much in the same way that I love eating salads and don’t much appreciate candy any more. Clearly, over time, my tastes and priorities have changed. Oh, you can still catch me blasting punk rock at ear splitting volumes from time to time, but largely now, while in the car, I listen to the news. It might have something to do with teaching 11 year-olds all day, and hearing the sound of an adult voice at the end of it is soothing to me. For whatever reason, on February 14th of this year while driving home from work, I was not in the mood to hear any more human voices at all. Maybe our class Valentine’s Day party had put me over the edge. Maybe I knew that in ten minutes I was going to be greeted by my preschool-aged son’s non-stop babbling. But that day, while I was in the car alone on my way to pick up my son from his grandparent’s house, I needed some quiet, so I didn’t listen to the news.

I picked up my son from his grandparents and on our way home, we had our usual conversations about how long it’s going to take to reach our house, the names of the streets, and why we don’t go down the hill at the stop light (where they keep the lava sharks that have lasers for teeth). Once home, I made dinner for the family. We ate. I tried to pry details of the day from my elusive 12 year-old with the usual limited success. We cleaned up. I played with the boy, put him to bed, had drawing time with the 12 year-old, then called it a night. It was a normal day in just about every sense, with the exception of not listening to the news in the car.

It was during the drive to work the next morning, when I finally turned on the news and heard the details of an event that broke my heart. On February 14th there had been a school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

As I wove through the frosty February hills of Portland to the posh suburb where I teach, I listened intently to the radio and tears welled up in my eyes. I did not know how to stop them. The whole thing was so horrible. I didn’t want to stop them. I wanted to cry for those kids who lost their lives, and their families whose tears would not stop for a long time. I wanted to cry with them. So I did. Tears poured down my face as I drove through the neighborhood shortcuts I used daily, watching the passing houses get bigger and the cars get newer.

I parked my car and the “what if” thoughts started swirling in my head. It’s not like I’ve never experienced the “what if this happened at my kid’s school,” nightmare fantasy before. I have had a child in public school for the last 7 years. Everyone with a child in public school has to live this tragic cycle over and over again, hoping they won’t be the next winner in this malevolent lottery. This time, though, it was different for me. This time I experienced the nightmare fantasy not only as a parent, but also as a teacher. It was the first time I went to the school where I work, looked around and had to face the thought that mercilessly ran through my mind: what if it were 17 kids from this school?

I used to experience a slightly different version of this particular machination when I was working as an Emergency Medical Technician. I witnessed some gruesome things during my time as an Emergency Medical Technician, like bad car wrecks or someone’s last struggles with cancer. I couldn’t help but imagine the same fates for people in my life, such as imagining my own kid in a comatose state after an accident, or seeing my mom suffering from dementia and unable to recognize her kids, or even just imagining my wife getting old and needing a wheelchair.

As the kids started to show up, forming lines in the halls waiting to be let into their classrooms, I just couldn’t stop looking at them. What if it was her, who is as sensible, positive and organized child who has ever lived, the one who wants to be an optometrist? What if it was him? The one who loves sports and thinks video games are stupid and wants to play in MLB? What if it was him? The one with the crazy set of computer skills and the bizarre sense of humor? What if it was her? What if it was him? What if, what if, what if?

I love these kids and I see so much potential for all of them. That morning, I couldn’t help but imagine the kids in my class running for their lives and dying at the hands of someone who had come unhinged and had access to a high powered killing machine. It wouldn’t be just one child that perishes. Not two. Not three. Seventeen. Seventeen instances of this same tragedy playing out in tandem.

The bell rang and I tried to focus, which proved to be elusive. A more sinister thought crept into my mind; what if it was one of these kids who became the shooter? What if it was one of my students that grew up, and became so disillusioned, so desperate, so disconnected that he or she decided to end some lives.

Fortunately for me, I am easily distracted by people who need things, and kids are very good at needing things. As soon as the cries of, “Mr. Raine, can we go in,” began I found my focus. I got it together and focused on doing what I love to do, teaching the kids. My students were blissfully unaware of what had happened, and I saw no reason to change that. The day went on as usual: morning meeting, math, recess, reading, and so on.

But every time I stepped near my classroom door I couldn’t look away from the lockout magnet. The lockout magnet is a magnetic strip that teachers place over the strike plate in the door frame so that the latch bolt can’t catch, so we can open the door freely without turning the knob while it’s in the locked position. The idea is when we have a lockdown drill, or a real lockdown event, we can lock the door quickly by simply pulling the strip and allowing the latch bolt to secure the door. It’s an elegant solution for a problem did not exist when I was a kid. When I was growing up, we had fire drills, of course, and because I grew up in southern California, we practiced earthquake drills. Apparently, now, in the 21st century, “psycho with an assault rifle” has been added to the list of “natural phenomena” for which we need to be prepared.

The big question to be asked here is why? Why are we having to prepare our children for the active shooter who infiltrates the school campus as if it were an inevitable and uncontrollable act of fate like a natural disaster? It should not be viewed as an inevitability as there are many measures we could put into place to prevent yet another school shooting from happening.

Unfortunately, one of the byproducts of the Parkland, Florida school shooting is a proposal to arm the teachers. More guns. Hell, let’s give everyone guns. An armed society is a polite society, right?

Well, let me be perfectly clear; I will never bring a gun around the students.

Teaching is multifaceted, case-by-case work. On any given day, my words may or may not stick with any given student. My actions and habits on the other hand, do stick. If I yell, my kids will yell. If I say a curse word, it gives them license to say it. If I model respect, hard work, and keeping my cool, they have an example to reference when I ask them to do the same. If I carried a gun at school, in my classroom, I would be modeling the fact that I am prepared at a moment’s notice to jump to irreversible and lethal violence; I’m ready. Let’s do it. Just try me, punk. This is not a message I want to send to a group of kids, especially to the boys, who live in a world saturated by false ideas of masculinity and glorified violence, not to mention that a lot of them spend a lot of time playing murder simulations together. That is not a message I want to send. I chose to be a teacher, not a cop. Not a soldier.

I have a lot of people in my family who are a part of the police force. My brother and a cousin who is very close to me are cops, as was my grandfather. And being a cop is a tough job. A job that I’m not cut out for. Even if I had all the training on how to carry, conceal and shoot a gun accurately, shooting a target on a range is a 180 degree shift from being in a combat situation, where the “chaos bomb” has dropped. I know the “chaos bomb” well from my decade working as an EMT. When the chaos of an actual emergency kicks in, everything changes. In an instant nothing is where it should be, nothing is working right, there is screaming, and possibly blood. Adrenaline is pumping, time slows down, and everything gets heightened. This is a situation where cops who ARE trained make mistakes and shoot people who don’t need to be shot. The New York Police Department, this country’s largest police force, published a study completed between the years of 1998-2006 stating the average “hit” rate was 18 percent for officers in a firefight. The accuracy improves at close range, with officers hitting their targets 37 percent of the time at distances of 7 yards or less. With stats like these, are we seriously going to train an army of people who’s idea of a good time was pursuing master’s degrees in childhood education?

Additionally, there is the issue of racial biases and stereotypes that factor into some bad judgement calls. These bad calls tend to lead to wrongful deaths. I happen to be a white guy. If I was a person of color and I was all of a sudden required to carry a gun in my classroom, I have good reason to believe that I would be “taken down” were I holding that classroom gun when the troops arrive to save the day from the active shooter on campus. As someone who would not really be at risk in that situation, I have to advocate for those who would.

The idea of cross training teachers as cops is just as ridiculous as the idea of cross training cops as teachers. I’m going out on a limb to say that if you were to ask the average cop if he or she would like to spend all day teaching a room full of children how to multiply fractions, why it’s important to be nice to each other and have a growth mindset, remind the kid with the scraped knee where the bandaids are for the hundredth time, explain fractions again to the poor kid who’s crying because she still doesn’t get it, remembering the email from the district TAG coordinator that you haven’t yet answered, and that you need to go outside for recess duty in two minutes…I’m going to guess the answer would be a resounding “No thank you”. And that’s for the average cop who probably deals with more domestic disputes than shootouts on any given day. Start asking the SWAT team if that’s how they’d like to spend their time.

I was not called to protect and serve. I was called to educate. I am a teacher whose job is to prepare children to be the next generation to run the world. I want them to use their minds and their hearts to solve problems, not to turn to violence first.

I look at my class every single day and in some form or other think to myself what their future is going to look like. What aren’t we taking care of that they will need to fight for? One positive thing that has come out of the Parkland, Florida school shooting are the scores of young adults who have been called to action. The kids are protesting and using social media to pressure lawmakers into doing something, and I’m watching them learn firsthand how politicians smile to the faces of children who demand that these tools for murder be taken away, then commit to nothing. I hope they can keep the pressure on to get better results than previous generations.

Our children are the legacy we leave behind when we are gone. We teach them to do the work that we will not be here to do, and we leave them the world in which they will have to do it. Every gun death in a school shooting robs the world of that. No legacy. No future. No hope the things their families care about will live on in any way.

Every child is our responsibility, and every child that dies takes part of us with them. We have to do something about this, and more guns is not the answer.

We can do better.

 

Evaluation of the New York City Police Department Firearm Training and Firearm-Discharge Review Process

A Hail of Bullets, a Heap of Uncertainty

 

 

Kelly Raine is an artist, writer, and educator. He teaches children and likes the idea that he is pitching in to make the world slightly better. He wears a lot of black and wakes up very, very early.

 

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