The Austin Chronicle

Opinion: Arming Teachers Is Not the Answer. I Know What Is.

To be safe, schools need funding for security personnel, equipment, and maintenance, argues an Austin middle school teacher

By Marissa Castañón-Hernandez, September 16, 2022, Columns

I am a native Texan. My father owned guns and my husband and I have several. Owning guns isn't the problem. Expecting me to be armed and ready to take out a bad guy with a gun: That's the problem. I am a teacher and my job is to teach.

I know it may seem like a reasonable solution: Give teachers guns so they have them when and if they need them. But it's a bad idea. Here is why.

First thing in the morning, when I start class, I take attendance. Kids don't have Chromebooks, or the Wi-Fi isn't working. I problem-solve. I start the lesson and explain it at least twice. Yes, I have a Band-Aid, yes, go to the counselor, you don't need your phone, I do want to see a picture of your puppy, you just went to the bathroom, I'm hungry too, keep working, let me look over it, get back to your seat, and so on. And this is only the first part of class.

Now at this point, imagine an armed intruder bursts into the room. Even with a gun on my person, which would certainly trigger some students, I have no chance to react. I don't wait around for a bad guy to bust in.

So let's instead imagine that we know the bad guy is coming and we go into lockdown. The door is locked, lights are off, and windows are covered. I army-crawl to where the gun is locked up and I use my keys to access my firearm. Students are crying. The gunman, armed with a high-powered assault rifle, shoots out the windows. I aim my handgun and in the chaos of it all, shoot him dead with extreme precision. Everyone is safe.

This must be what the proponents of arming teachers visualize will happen. If any of them can guarantee it would go down this way, and not hold me liable if it didn't, I might be persuaded that arming me is a good idea.

In reality, I would have only been provided with minimal training. I won't have a good aim unless I am a prodigy markswoman. There are a lot of "what-ifs" to consider. What if I accidentally shoot a kid? What if a kid is used as a human shield or hostage? What if my gun jams?

Arming teachers is not the answer. I've been in the classroom for over 22 years. I know what will give us the best chance to live and learn another day.

What if we have adequate security personnel, like one or more Student Resource Officers (SROs) on campus at all times? SROs are trained and armed law enforcement officers. Their presence alone serves as a deterrent to those wishing to do us harm. They would be on the premises, ready to take action, should an armed intruder enter our school.

What if we have high-quality, functioning surveillance equipment that security personnel can access at any moment? Our SROs can have eyes everywhere and so can our front office staff and leadership team. Instead of reacting to a devastating event, we can prevent one from occurring.

Finally, what if we have buildings that are secure because they are maintained and security concerns are addressed quickly? Doors that won't close, for example, are fixed immediately, instead of us having to wait for our turn in the queue.

These are the things we need to be safe. Gun-toting teachers are not. Legislators must prioritize funding and resources for qualified security personnel, advanced monitoring systems, and adequate maintenance staff.

Then, teachers can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning. Imagine how wonderful that would be.

Marissa Castañón-Hernandez is a teacher at Wayside Sci-Tech Middle School in Austin. She has taught for more than 20 years, focusing on 21st-century skill development and methods for inspiring positive change through theatre arts. She is an advocate for equity in education and currently serves as a Texas Teach Plus Senior Writing Fellow.

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