School leaders are the only hope to end gun violence
His answer still shocks me, “Yes, Dr. J. That’s right.” He said it with such conviction and talent. At that time, I prayed that I would never have to make such a decision.
The following year, as my door was open and my students were working in groups in the hallway, a young girl ran down the hall yelling, “He has a gun. Immediately, I called all the students to my room and locked my door. I covered the rectangular glass of the door. I gathered students in the corner as they texted their parents and cried in silence. The school has gone into lockdown.
My students and I saw the front of the school surrounded by every county law enforcement officer. I stood there trying to calm the students down while remembering the officer’s words from last year, praying that our school wouldn’t be the next statistic. It was one of the most terrifying times of my life and my profession. It was a moment most Americans will never experience (which is also a reason why there was no change).
The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun, but the emotionality of the moment is still with me. It is now part of my college’s teacher preparation classes. I never believed that one day class preparation would involve preparing teachers for school shootings. Yet, this is the state of American education.
The aim of the school is to reinvent society and influence it positively. Schools are responsible for creating a better society, framed by the ideals of humanity. Given our current political climate, schools are once again faced with a challenge within society at large.
According to The Violence Project (a national, nonpartisan organization funded by the National Institute of Justice), “98% of mass shooters identify as male,” and the majority are white. Over 80% were in a noticeable crisis prior to their shooting, some of which include abusive behavior, isolation and increased restlessness. Additionally, hate-motivated mass shootings have rapidly increased since 2015.
The Violence Project looked at data specific to school shootings: 91% of shooters were current or former students, 87% were in crisis, 80% were suicidal, 78% had disclosed plans before the shooting, and 50% shooters were specifically targeting someone.
According to the research, there are important findings for schools. First, educators at all levels must create inclusive educational environments. It is imperative that every student feels valued and affirmed. In addition, all students should feel a sense of belonging to the school culture.
Second, educators must teach empathy. We want to believe that most students have the ability to empathize with others, but in my experiences as a high school teacher and middle school professor, students lack empathy. Acknowledging the pain and experiences of others can be a powerful tool in creating a safe classroom.
As a teacher trainer, I regularly cover topics related to mental health, but I will spend more time preparing future teachers to understand the role it plays. These discussions have primarily been regulated for graduate students in school counseling programs, but teachers who interact with students daily must be prepared to recognize the signs and symptoms.
Another aspect is to create an environment where students feel safe to share their concerns. Students are immersed in social media and many are aware of school events before they happen through social media. Students are also surrounded by student gossip, which most teachers never find out about. They should be encouraged to share information. Schools should move from a culture of silence to a culture of responsible citizenship.
Finally, we need to look at how men are socially normalized. I argue that men’s beliefs about violence are socially constructed differently than their female counterparts. The researchers suggest that men are less empathetic, implying that male students should be targeted when trying to build empathy within the student body. There are reasons why most mass shooters are white males, and schools need to examine those reasons and socially constructed beliefs of masculinity, especially white masculinity.
As I stood in my classroom, my view flickered between 30 students crammed into one corner and the police outside my windows. At that time, I hoped they would save us. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to stop the bleeding. In this moment of crisis, my mind was completely focused on my students and their pain. With another shooting, my mind is once again focused on the students and my role in tackling the problem.
Schools have to do something because our political leaders are not trying to make reasonable changes. Until they do, the schools must save themselves and our society, as we must always do when irrationality is accepted at the expense of intellectualism.