OPED: Not a choice a teacher should have to make

Thomas Gregg
Tribune News Service

I'm a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher, veteran of nine years in the U.S. Army, husband and father of twin girls.

I explained to my students the capabilities of an AR-15 recently in class, and told them if anything happens, to stay behind me. It wasn't as easy or as automatic as I thought it would be, but not because of thoughts of my mortality; I've been somewhat fatalistic since the Iraq War. It had more to do with the difficulty of looking in the eyes of young people who were scared, scared that maybe I wouldn't be enough to protect them or that my decision could lead to my own death — or theirs.

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One of the choices we're told teachers might have to face in today's reality is whether to let a student into a locked classroom (and thereby possibly let the shooter in as well) or leave that student to face the fire in the hallway. Now, for you manly men out there, the choice might be simple: Choose the group over the individual and just deal with it. But then again, I don't see too many macho types in teaching; they can't handle it. All the yelling, the insecurities, the inconsistencies, the immaturity — it's just too much for them.

I know who teaches: those who care, those who care so much about other people's children that they choose to make personal connections with these young, hormonal proto-people, no matter how frustrating they can be. They have the courage and fortitude to continue to mentor young people, although "failing schools" has been employed in political parlance for so long that many around the country take it for granted that schools and teachers are terrible.

In the midst of ever-changing standards, the increasing burden of blame and paperwork, I see teachers every day take time out to listen to a young person when they're having an anxiety attack or give part of their lunch to a student who hadn't eaten that day. I see teachers use every tool in their toolboxes to engage students with the content and skills that will help them be successful in the next steps of life.

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I have often heard guns described as tools. They are simply tools, the old saying goes; what someone does with those tools is up to the person. A tool itself is neither good nor bad. What type of job is the tool for, though? Sure, you can use a hammer to kill someone, but you can also use it to build a house. Having worked in demolition during college, I've seen the destructive power of all sorts of tools, destruction specific to the job.

What job is the AR-15 for? Why have a weapon that allows a relative amateur to fire dozens of rounds a minute and hit human-sized targets at 100 yards away? For war, obviously — to kill other humans. It certainly isn't to hunt animals; that deer has bolted after your second shot. If you've got one of these rifles, you likely practice on targets that are human shaped. You prepare yourself mentally to shoot another person. That's the job for this tool.

But the zombies aren't really coming (and head shots are hard anyway), and you're not on patrol in Kandahar. You don't need to "take out" as many "hostiles" as you can in the next five minutes. It's just you and this tool that has only one job.

Or it's an angry young man with that tool on one side, and on the other side are children and me or my colleagues or any other teacher you know. Making a choice.

— Thomas Gregg is a teacher in Baltimore City. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.