School shootings are breaking the hearts of all Americans time and time again. And they're also severely impacting the teaching profession; many teachers are expressing fear for their lives and, consequently, some are even reconsidering their career choice.
Most recently, an armed student inside Great Mills High School in Maryland shot two students. And, on Feb. 14, a 19-year-old assailant with an AR-15 rifle fired bullets through the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 people in what was the deadliest school shooting since 26 lives were claimed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the 18th this year, although that number has been debated, which would make the Maryland shooting the 19th. There’s a school shooting every 2.5 days, according to research, and the Parkland shooting has become the ninth deadliest single-day mass shooting in modern American history. In fact, there have been 49 mass shootings in general this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which, together, have claimed 75 lives.
Just recently, the brave survivors of the Florida shooting had organized a march for political action against gun violence called the "March For Our Lives." Students marched down Washington D.C.'s iconic Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday, March 24.
Meanwhile, teachers have been reflecting on their careers in which they suddenly are wearing more hats than they'd ever anticipated.
"I personally am leaving the field of teaching because it is no longer satisfying for me," says Tatisha McKay, a New Jersey-based fourth-grade teacher. "I spend more time worrying about my safety and doing the jobs parents should be doing at home than actually teaching. It's really sad because all I want to do is teach... but all of the added stress, and now with all of the school shootings, I am scared more than half the day. It just doesn't seem worth it to stay any longer."
McKay isn't alone in feeling this way. Another New York-based high school teacher, Lauren*, who asked to keep her identity concealed, says she feels like she already wears so many hats, and now society expects her to save lives, too, and "it's not really fair."
"I think that students now can't even feel 100 percent safe in their own school, a place that's touted as a safe space for them, is really sad and says a lot about the current state of affairs in America," Lauren* says. "People say we have a mental health problem and not a gun problem, yet many politicians don't want the average person to have easy and affordable access to healthcare to mitigate that problem in the first place (among countless other health issues). Some suggest arming teachers. I think anyone who suggests that is not a teacher, nor are they friends or family of a teacher. We as teachers are already liable for so much, and now people want to arm us with lethal weapons."
Lauren also begs the question: Where will the money come from to train teachers to use guns?
"People scream in protest when schools want funding for books and facilities, and now they're suddenly gung-ho about giving us guns," she explains. "Why is there such a disconnect in values?"
"No one tells you when you study to become a teacher that you're supposed to be the hero who saves someone's life," Lauren* adds. "That's not what I signed up for. And now I feel like I have to take on that role."
And other teachers don't feel like they're being paid enough to be putting their lives on the line.
"It is a running joke, but also a sad truth in this country that teachers are grossly underpaid when you consider the true hours we put in, the workload we manage, the deficits we endure and the sheer scale of impact we have on generation after generation of students," says Amanda Houlis, a New Jersey-based elementary school teacher. "To add to the multitude of hats we wear and responsibilities we bear, mind you, all things that we knowingly chose to take on, protecting classrooms of kids from shootings is now a very real element of our job descriptions, and a lot of us are looking around thinking, 'I didn’t sign up for that.'"
She says that it's "infuriating" to listen to politicians "blindly speak" about arming teachers with guns, while many teachers are screaming from the rooftops that they don’t feel comfortable being trained to use automatic or semi-automatic weapons amongst their students.
"What we need is the funding to have an appropriate number of social workers and school psychologists for students in need," she advises instead. "We need administrations to take us seriously when we bring them students who have presented certain challenges that go beyond the norm and whom we believe may need extra support. I don’t need or want a gun to protect myself or my students. I need adequate resources to help me prevent any child from handling homicidal thoughts and feelings or other mental illness challenges alone."
Approximately one in five youth aged 13 to 18 (or 21.4 percent) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life, according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness. For children aged eight to 15, the estimate is 13 percent. But only about half of children aged eight to 15 received mental health services in the previous year.
"We have all gotten the message that we are supposed to be here and protect our students with our own lives, but that reality is more frightening than I could ever express," Houlis adds. "And I’m not supposed to express it, because that would be seen as selfish or not doing my job. The problem is that we all have begun to ask ourselves, 'When did this become a part of our jobs? When did the expectation become that we are to protect our students with our lives?' But you can’t actually ask that question out loud."
Of course, not all teachers are against having guns. One Illinois high school teacher, who asked that she just be called by her first name, Elaine, said that she'd actually prefer to have a gun.
"I own a gun legally at home already," the math teacher explained. "I would never want to have to use it, but it's comforting to know that if I needed to, I would have a way to at least try to fight back. I wouldn't have to just hide under my desk and wait for the police to hopefully show up in time. But, of course, I don't think all teachers who don't feel comfortable having guns should be forced to carry them."
Wherever one stands on the gun debate, teachers need just as much support as these vulnerable students.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.