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Should Teachers Get Purple Hearts?

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But could you do it? Could you face a shooter and pull the trigger? Or tackle? And not panic? Tough questions. Easy to say what we would do, but could we do it? Our split second decision lasts forever, with so many ramifications.

As of now eighteen states allow teachers to carry firearms, undoubtedly there will be more. Obvious concerns including insurance companies worrying about liability, teachers questioning the idea, incidents already occurring with teachers making errors with guns, inevitable, and the social dilemma of what to do next about this growing and heinous problem.

In 2017 there were forty-four school shoortings, elementary and high school. The grisly toll was twenty-five lost and sixty injured. Thus far this year statistics are horrid, twenty- eight school shootings, with forty deaths and sixty-six injured. 

Just another day. Another shooting at school. Yesterday's shooting was at a Middle School in Indiana, just a bunch of innocent kids. A class taking a science test in the classroom. Not just any classroom, happened to be Jason Seaman's, former football player, school football coach, most important science teacher. Hired to be a science teacher, not a hero. But hero he is. However unintentionally.

On an ordinary school day, a kid in a teacher's classroom asked to be excused for whatever reason and came back with two guns. Guns he used, which severely injured one young girl and ended up hitting this brave teacher in his stomach, hip and arm. Jason Seaman most likely prevented more injuries by thinking fast. What we hope we would all do. But he went beyond being a servant leader. He offered up his own life to save his students.

Seems like Jason Seaman, extraordinary teacher and human being ought to get a Purple Heart, except he is a teacher, not in the military. Valor beyond the call of duty. This cannot be the new normal for our nation's teachers. 

I read a number of stories about what actually happened in the classroom on Friday, and most accounts to date are the same. This teacher and class had practiced for the event, should it ever occur, but I imagine they thought the danger was from the outside, not in their own class. One of the students said the shooter was basically a nice kid and got along with classmates. So what in the world led to carnage? 

While schools across our country are practicing safety drills and in the larger world arena, politicians, parents and school leaders are pondering what to do. So many issues involved, not just about changing gun laws. About mental health and stress of our students, worried parents and exhausted flummoxed administrators and teachers.

Apparently Teacher Seaman had told his class earlier in the year he would throw down and hit any intruder with balls, or whatever it took to subdue, and that's what he did. Exactly.

What a hero, throwing a basketball, wrestling gun/s and tackling the student. I can't imagine. And I am reluctant to contemplate how students felt, the panic, seeing their teacher save lives by his unimaginable valor. No words.

And what did this bravest of brave, teacher say when he was conscious, about his kids? "To all the students, you are wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach." Such humility. The mark of a true leader.

Have we come to this, after the headlines, business as usual. Numbed, accustomed to chaos, seems like getting a lot more risky to just be at school, teach at school or send our kids to school. Scary.

Used to be we were just worried about snow days, then making sure we had peanut free zones. Worried about test scores. Worried about too old school buildings and class sizes too big. Feeding hungry kids, working so hard to level the playing field. Transforming schools.

Model grit and mindfulness. Teach real life, useful skills. Help kiddos be future ready for the brave new world workplace, whatever that may look like. But not about protecting ourselves from gun violence in our safe havens, schools as sanctuaries of the heart. Safe zones of learning for our scholars. School cultures designed for celebration, not intimidation and fear. Yet here we are, thinking where is the closest exit? Where can we be safe from an intruder? Anywhere?

Even with plans in place, the inevitable has happened. Old classrooms have more than one door, frequently no way to block an intruder. Sitting ducks. From without and within. What's a teacher to do?

It's so unreal. To hear about another school shooting. Then another and another. Kind of get numbed after awhile. So many lives lost. So much untold promise not met. Sorrow and grief for always and ever. Some commonalities, not sure who or what is to blame, or where to start.

School districts may be adding gun safety training for all or some teachers, or none. School Resource Officers are certainly needed. I'd add lower class sizes so teachers can more readily spot a kid having a mental issue, add nurses and couselors back in schools. Reach out to local universities to coordinate Counseling and Social Work Interns for districts and schools.

For years I taught School Administration, for CSUS, Sacramento, National University and Chapman. The first tenet I stressed in our courses, before curriculum was straight fom the Calif. Education Code, "Safe and orderly environment" and "Duty to Protect". And that as Principals, we were responsible for children's welfare from the time they left home until back at home after school.

Oh boy, tougher now, that's for sure. When I became Principal there were bullet holes in the school and it was a very tough neighborhood, but I never feared and certainly had no gun, in fact no cell phone. I was gutsy.

I am sure administrators are wringing hands, making sure every possible safety measure is in place and hoping the tide turns. It must. Even the most, best prepared schools have still had extreme events. Metal detectors. Other ideas. No answers yet, pretty much still local decisions.

A couple weeks ago I took a Defensive Firearms class, not for concealed carry, but I needed certification for school. Yes, preschool. Anybody who works or volunteers there needs to take the class. I passed the test, missed two. This was not on the range itself. The Instructor, a former Marine was excellent. I learned a lot about basic firearms and how to keep them clean and in working order, with proper bullets. A lot more to this than I thought. 

I was the only one in class not wanting to carry a gun for protection. I knew nothing, no schema, no prior knowledge. So my head was spinning. I asked the Instructor whether he thought teachers should be armed. He replied, "Hell no." This was sketchier than my CPR class. I felt really secure there and saved my doll. But this was different. 

One of our Instructor's comments really stood out; "As a private citizen you have no duty to act. Nothing says you are required to get involved because you have a firearm on you." And yet, that is exactly what we are expecting teachers to do, with or without gun safety or self defense training.

It takes a lot of practice to shoot well. We were told about 1000 repetitions just to get used to the kinesthetics of shooting. I can shoot a gun, I have always chosen not to. 

How many teachers already have a gun and might want to be considered for a school response team? How fast could these elite people prevent or stop an intruder? Is that a new part of a teacher's job description, "Other duties, as required?". That used to mean volunteering to host a school club. Big difference.

On Twitter, teacher Kory Graham made several extremely valid points Friday night, after the tragic event. She began with the obvious, this story had not focused all day on the bravery and heroism of this one special teacher. In fact, during the day I never caught a news story, nor saw it on Twitter trends, nothing. By Friday night I was aware there had been another school shooting. Maybe I missed it. 

Kory posed several good questions, which others responded to. She queried, "even with training, faced with an active shooter, what would a teacher actually be able to do?" Teachers are supposed to teach. It seems enough to work in underfunded schools with overwhelming odds, yet teachers do so admirably and are every day heroes and sheroes, to begin with. And now this.

I heard from Art La Flamme, also on Twitter. He commented "Rita, hi. Combat veteran here, 7 deployments, incl. 4 tours in Iraq. I teach now. I shouldn't be shot at, & simply- I shouldn't have to charge at ANY shooter anymore. There shouldn't be shooters for me to charge heroically. Would I? Yes- but god damn....no shooters, please."

Brian Costello stated: "I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to say. I have never taken a bullet, never been shot at, and as much as I'd like to think I'd be as brave as this teacher, I can't answer that, and I hope I never have to do so."

Should teachers receive Purple Hearts? Probably yes, but no. But is this where we are? Is this what our world has come to? Teachers accepting responsibility above and beyond the call, sacrificing themselves and family because of passionately protecting students from any and all harm?

I have no answers, only more questions today, on this Memorial Weekend. I do thank this amazing Teacher Hero, his cape was definitely on.

But our nation's teachers are already wearing capes, capes which are wearing out, becoming threadbare as they finish the year strong and with passion, love and teaching exellence. We cannot ask our teachers do do more with less, any more and certainly, not this. Take a bullet.

Just too much to contemplate and more than we as a collective people can or should have to bear. We are beyond thoughts and prayers. We must figure this out. Our very lives may depend on it. And our students. 

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita





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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 47 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Rita is currently teaching in a multi-age, fully incuded preschool, ages 2-8. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Friday, 22 March 2019