May 13th, 2019

Educator Voice: Want to appreciate teachers? Then put an end to gun violence

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by Hayley Breden, high school social studies teacher, Denver, Colorado


Every May, there are multitudes of inadequate, or just plain insulting, platitudes about Teacher Appreciation Week. I appreciate the buy-one-get-one drinks and burritos, but what teachers across this country would prefer is effective policy changes.


This school year, my Denver colleagues and I endured a three-day teacher strike in which we lost valuable days of instruction and another day when schools were cancelled across the state due to a security threat. I was hoping that the last month of the school year would be one of peace, joy and learning with my students.  


However, after my last class finished on Tuesday, May 7, I checked my phone and my heart dropped. There had been yet another school shooting, but this time just a dozen miles from my school, at another school where two of my coworkers’ partners taught, and one of my student’s siblings was a sixth grader. That night, teachers worked into the night to reunify parents with their children.


The following morning, my own school went into lockout (business inside the building continues, but no one is allowed to enter or leave the building) and continued in lockout for the remainder of the school week, until about 1pm Friday. 



We’ve had a few lockdowns and lockouts at my school over the past nine years since I’ve worked there, but with every school shooting, I reflect and think more about my place in our school community and the serious issue of gun violence that plagues our society.  


It’s important to expand our discussion as a society to the broader issue of American gun violence in all contexts, not just in schools. Shootings that occur on neighborhood streets, in private homes and in all other locations are just as horrifying to our society as school shootings. It’s very understandable that those of us who are educators would be particularly sickened by school shootings and have a real sense of fear when threats are made against the places where we spend so much of our time working with inspiring young people.  


This piece by a Colorado educator states that guns are not the problem nor the solution in permitting school shootings to happen, and also focuses on all the attention paid to school shootings, while leaving other forms of gun violence that also impact our students unacknowledged.  


“Teachers should be conscious of the manner in which they address these horrible school shootings in comparison to other instances of gun violence that impact our students.”


I have a suspicion – and I’m sure there’s research somewhere to back it – that since most teachers are white, middle-class women, they likely have not witnessed or been impacted by gun violence in the same ways in which many public school students have. During the multi-day lockout this week in Denver, many teachers were rightly very worried about the safety and well-being of our school community, including the mental health of the student who had allegedly made the threat.


As we moved into the second and then third day of the lockout, I wondered if some of my fellow teachers realized that the fear and anxiety about potential gun violence that we felt acutely this week was something that many of our students face with resilience in their daily lives, and not just when school shootings occur.


What would our school communities be like if the multitudes of counselors and other mental health professionals who are sent to schools after shootings were available to all of our students year-round? What would our school communities be like if there was enough funding to improve the opportunities, health and well-being of all students and staff? What would our school communities be like if teachers, families and students worked together to limit easy access to guns? For Teacher Appreciation Week, and every week, I would like for no more children to die from – or be impacted by – gun violence in any form.


Hayley Breden is a high school social studies teacher in Denver, Colorado.  She is a founding member of the Caucus of Today’s Teachers in Denver, and earned her M.A. in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice from CU-Boulder.  You can listen to an interview with her about the Denver teachers strike from WBUR’s radio show Here and Now.




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