On the evening of June 13, I received a text message from a superintendent in my district. “My teacher son now has a target on his back. Why would he ever want to teach in this state?” Hours before, Governor Mike DeWine signed into law House Bill 99, allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom with only 24 hours of training. As I read the text and began composing a response, my eight-year-old daughter asked what I was doing. I said, “Well I heard from someone in the district, and they are really upset teachers can have guns in class.” Her face dropped. My stomach flipped.
Tears welled up in her eyes and she asked, “Is that true? Can teachers have guns? Will my teacher have a gun?” I realized that I have become so jaded, so angry, that I did not realize broaching this subject with my daughter would elicit such a reaction. She had no idea it was possible for HER teacher to have a gun in HER classroom. I told her I would do everything I could to make sure her teacher didn’t have a gun at school. And trust me, I will.
So here we sit. A cop-out, cowardly solution to a large and complicated societal problem. Our Statehouse has responded to years of mental health crises by arming teachers in the classroom. “Sorry folks, but we won’t stop people from buying guns. Best response is just to arm teachers. That way they can defend your kids. This will fix it. You’re welcome.”
At the same time, we won’t trust these same teachers to teach history as it happened (see HB322 and HB327), and at the State Board, we continually face attacks to the Whole Child model (see Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education), as critics argue that soft skills are outside the realm of school responsibility. Just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, they say. Yet our kids are struggling on a basic social emotional level. Many kids are not in a position to be ready to learn when they enter school each day. Ask any teacher or administrator, and behavior problems are bigger than they have ever been in the classroom. Families are tired, disengaged, but at the same time, many are more critical of our public schools than ever.
Our teachers are exhausted, and many are leaving the profession altogether. In addition, fewer students are choosing to enter a profession that has been weighed down by extreme professional demands coupled with intense public scrutiny on both their performance and role in society. As the text I received stated “Why would he want to teach in this state?”
Demand answers from candidates running for office this year. How will they support public education and create a safe and effective learning environment for your child and those in your community? All of our kids need support for all of their development. Nurture the whole child, let’s get our kids reading and loving it, and let’s move this State forward in learning with real solutions. We need a focus on literacy, not guns. The solutions we seek come from kids that can read, discern, and help build up our communities. Now is the time, Ohio.
Michelle Newman is the 9th district representative on Ohio's State board of Education, which includes all of Licking County. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Newman: Ohio education needs a focus on literacy, not guns