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Rob Brown (left), Art Roberts (center), Me (right): three nerds who love literature and teaching.

To use the current lingo of the kids, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is LIT! Considering this is episode “42”, I knew I wanted to sit down with my great friends, Art and Rob, who are English teachers at my school. We talk about why we love literature, its value in today’s day and age, as well as some of our favorite authors and poets. Please listen and share with other teachers or fans of literature in general.

Thanks again for listening, everyone, and have a great week!

P.S. – Here’s the article from The Atlantic I reference in the event it piqued your interest: “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers”

And here’s the brief clip with Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, about how and why we must change our education system to focus on what makes us uniquely human:

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Aaron Feis, left, lost his life saving children; Scot Peterson, right, effectively did nothing.

Today is Valentine’s Day.

It is also the painful first anniversary of the tragic school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and ended the lives of 17 people.

Three of those who lost their lives that day were educators who sacrificed their lives to protect their students.

Three teachers who cared deeply about our children and their future.

*****

We live in an era of mass shootings that show no sign of slowing down. Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 85 school shootings that have killed a total of 223 people, including teachers and staff. On average that means there have been over four school shootings a year, with each of those killing just over three people per occurrence.

But here’s the thing…

How many traditional “first responders” died in all of those school shootings over the last two decades?

Zero.

According to the recently released Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report, only one School Resource Officer (SRO) was wounded across those 20 years. Here are just a few notable quotes from the study’s findings:

“School personnel were most frequently involved in stopping attacks; school resource officers were less so.”

“High school attacks were stopped 11 times by administrators, teachers, and staff.”

“School administrators, teachers or staff members were sometimes among the first individuals killed.”

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Chris Hixon, Navy veteran and teacher who died protecting students at MSD.

Educators may have been hired to teach the next generations that follow their own, but in an era of mass school shootings we have all become the real first responders. Even if a school is lucky enough to have an SRO or SSO (School Safety Officer), one person is not enough to stop a killing spree that will last only minutes at most. It takes administrators, teachers, and ESPs to work together and communicate when there are threats to student safety. Most of the time this vigilance is enough…and yet the average across the last two decades states that four times this year, it won’t be.

And the odds are that it will be school personnel who sacrifice their lives for the children, not the school resource officer.

This isn’t necessarily something that has only happened since Columbine either. Just a few days ago was the 31st anniversary of the first school shooting in the Tampa Bay region, which happened at Pinellas Park High School in 1988. Three people were shot by the young man amidst a scuffle in the lunch room: two were injured, one was killed, all were site-based administrators.

The reason these facts are being addressed is to highlight a simple fact: if educators are truly the first responders in a world of mass shootings that happen with some regularity at schools, the risks we take for our children and profession should be duly compensated.

First responders, as they are traditionally defined (fire, police, sheriff), receive a retirement multiplier of 3.0 from the state of Florida, which they undoubtedly deserve. Therefore, if a firefighter, police officer, or sheriff’s deputy works for 30 years, the Florida Retirement System pays them a pension based on 30 years times the multiplier, meaning they receive 90% of their highest five years averaged together.

Scot Peterson, for instance, now gets to take home a monthly pension of $8,702.

But an administrator, teacher or ESP? Our multiplier is 1.6, just barely over half of what traditional “first responders” receive and deserve. The top of the pay scale here in Hillsborough is $66K, a far cry from the $101,879 dollars Scot Peterson received to ride around campus on a golf cart all day until the moment when he was actually needed and did nothing. Meanwhile, a teacher in HCPS with 30 years of experience would receive only 48% of his or her final salary, netting that person a monthly benefit of $2,640.

How is this fair?

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Scott Beigel, the third teacher at MSD who died saving the lives of students.

Here’s the solution: at a bare minimum, all site-based school employees–whether administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, education support personnel…anyone who directly has contact with kids and could potentially stop the next school shooting–should have their retirement multiplier pushed up to 2.0 so that a 30 year career receives 60% of the highest five years’ average. Considering the Florida Retirement System (FRS) is routinely touted as one of the best in the nation with nearly 85% of future liabilities already covered, surely there must be a way for the Florida Legislature to increase funding to the program to raise the multiplier to 2.0

And if our legislators cannot or will not at least lift the multiplier, the least they could do to compensate our additional risk as the real first responders at schools is to give us back the 3% we’ve been forced to contribute to our own paltry pensions since 2011.

If you read this and are an employee at a school site in one of our 67 counties, or a public education advocate who thinks those who protect children deserve more, please call or email your legislators to ask them to raise our retirement multiplier.

Related: The Day After… – students share their thoughts and concerns, hopes and fears in class the day after the Parkland tragedy.

Related: I’m Angry – guest post by a fellow teacher describing the initial surge of anger she felt after what happened at MSD.

Related: About Those Teachers with Guns… – brief write up containing data after surveying students and fellow faculty members–specifically those who are military veterans–about how they feel regarding arming teachers.

Related: About Those Teachers with Guns: Redux – guest post by another fellow teacher with many important points legislators should consider when weighing the big picture of public education in Florida.

 

 

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The Florida Legislature wants to arm teachers as part of a “marshal program”

In the wake of the Parkland tragedy, ideas for how to make schools safer have taken over the current legislative session. Governor Scott forwarded his proposal, as did the House and Senate. While I applaud the multi-pronged approach including raising the age for gun purchases to 21, implementing a mandatory 3 day waiting period, better background checks, increased funding for mental health services, adding more SROs to campuses, et cetera, I firmly do not believe that arming teachers in schools should be part of the solution.

Before I get into the data and enumerate my reasons, let me unequivocally state the following: I am not “anti-gun” per se. I have handled guns, fired them, and fully comprehend the power that they possess. I believe it is reasonable for people to own a pistol, shotgun, or rifle for home defense or hunting. I do draw the line at assault weapons such as the AR-15, and do not believe anyone should have access to guns that have so much destructive power.

I am not a gun owner, however. And yet, as an independent voter and someone who assiduously tries to be a political moderate/centrist, I have no problem with those who own guns and even carry them legally with a concealed carry permit. But I object to arming teachers on mathematical and philosophical premises, which are intertwined and I hope to explain.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that nearly 60% of Americans are against arming teachers, and just over 60% of Americans want a full ban on assault weapons.

Beyond these two data points, I conducted my own hasty research today to provide additional data. Granted, I acknowledge my data set may be relatively small and considered insignificant, but it’s still illustrative of broader trends I’ve seen online and in other articles.

Administration: 100% of my school’s administration do NOT want teachers armed.

Students: 80.4% of my students do NOT want teachers armed and would NOT feel safer if teachers had guns on campus.

Teachers—and not just any teachers, I specifically only asked teachers who work at my school who also happen to also be veterans—86% do NOT want teachers armed and expressed additional reservations about this idea. In fact, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is a former Marine who teaches at another school in Florida and wrote an op-ed that expresses much of what I heard today.

Beyond the data points and still in the mathematical realm is basic probability. By adding any guns to any campus the chance of being shot at school statistically increases. It’s really that simple. It may not be much, but it would be an increase nonetheless.

There’s also the funding issue, which is one of my chief concerns. While Governor Scott certainly made headlines with his promise of $500 million dollars, how can the state even afford this? Each year it seems the state has to rob various trust funds just to keep up with rising costs because the Republican-led Legislature is so unwilling to raise fees or taxes, a stance that will, in the long run, completely jeopardize Florida’s future. And if the state simply had $500 million lying around, why wasn’t that already included in the education budget (or for healthcare, infrastructure, affordable housing, or any other number of priorities that could use the additional funding)? We cannot count on this to be recurring funding either, which would further hamstring an education system that is woefully underfunded and completely cash strapped.

From a philosophical perspective, schools are not places for guns, they are the physical manifestation of learning. They are places where each and every day caring adults try to instill good habits of mind and character. We want our children to become lifelong learners, to be engaged citizens, and to learn how to care for others in the broader community. Education professionals carrying guns will only heighten anxiety among our students and be disruptive to the learning process. Piles of studies have clearly demonstrated that students who are experiencing chronic stress do not learn well, and they’re already stressed out enough due to high stakes testing, bullying, social media, and just being a child in the 21st century in general. Why would we add to their stress?

More than anything else, I want every legislator in the state of Florida to take a long hard look at the political cartoon at the top of this post. Teachers are already overburdened, overworked and underpaid. We do so much for kids day in and day out, but we shouldn’t have to worry about being responsible for a gun on top of everything else we already do.

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This guest post was written by Michelle Hamlyn, a fellow teacher here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and member of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

I’m Angry

In the past, I’ve been heartbroken at the lives lost, the upheaval after, the despair of the families. This time I’m angry.

I’m angry that mass shootings keep happening in one of the richest, most civilized countries in the world. A country that should be able to figure this out.

I’m angry that schools need to be secured. How do you secure a playground, a PE field, a campus with multiple buildings? And do we want our schools to look like fortresses and prisons?

I’m angry that legislators are bought by special interest groups, leaving rational conversation and problem-solving in the dust. I’m angry that any conversation about gun control results in “You can’t take my guns.” I don’t want your damn guns. I want to have a conversation where you and I can find a solution to the current madness. But that would require us to both come from a stand of compassion and understanding, not defensiveness and posturing.

I’m angry that those same legislators have decimated mental health programs, even though the number of mentally ill people hasn’t diminished. I’m angry that the NRA doesn’t include lobbying for better mental health programs while they’re lobbying for gun rights. I’m angry that time and again, the controls in place have “missed something” about the shooter, thus rendering the controls pointless and dangerous. I’m angry that the government continues to tell us how safe we are, when anyone can see that we’re not.

I’m angry that legislators have also decimated public education and currently see it as a money-maker for billionaires. I’m angry that those decisions have led to public school policies that are conducive to school shootings, like not having enough mental health professionals on hand to adequately deal with students’ issues in a timely, meaningful manner. And stressing testing so much that students actually believe the test defines them. Which makes them even more stressed and more likely to lash out at others.

I’m angry that everyone thinks the solution to this is having more school resource officers. Or, even worse, in arming teachers, a ghastly idea that would probably result in so much more harm than good. Or that it’s somehow a child’s responsibility to “See something. Say something.” I’m angry that in districts across the country, there are teachers who have done just that and it has resulted in nothing being done.

I’m angry that districts are more concerned with their public images than with what’s really best for students. I’m angry that in some schools, teachers are told not to write referrals for bad behavior or to pass students who haven’t done any work just so the district can tout its data.
I’m angry that district spokespeople are busy reassuring parents their children are safe, when I know they’re not. How could they be if students keep getting shot at school?

I’m angry that helicopter and bulldozer parents coddle and enable their children to the degree they don’t understand right from wrong, or that actions have consequences, or that dealing with negative emotions is a part of life, thereby creating a child crippled by fear and anxiety, with no coping skills to deal with the reality of life. And then expect schools to fix it.

I’m angry that every time I try to get people to listen to all these things, I’m told I’m being too negative, that I’m on my soapbox again, that my passion for my students is really an excuse for my own unwillingness to change. I’m angry that I’m not looked at as an authority on the reality of today’s public schools. I’m angry that the people who are in charge never invite me or any other teacher to the table.

I’m angry that in addition to the never-ending responsibilities foisted upon teachers, one of those responsibilities includes keeping students safe in conditions I have no control over and in which I’m a hero if I die while saving students. It seems a lot to ask or expect. I became a teacher, not a soldier or a police officer or a firefighter.

Mostly, though, I’m angry that a human being decided to kill other human beings.

I’m angry that students who may have changed the world will never have that opportunity.

I’m angry that school personnel had to choose to irrevocably harm their own families to try and save other families.

I’m angry that families are broken and battered, and will never feel whole again.

And I’m angry that my students have to live in this world.

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A new day dawns in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy

After yesterday’s senseless and tragic act of violence at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teachers all across the Sunshine State returned to work today ready to help their students and colleagues process what had happened the previous afternoon. In most of my classes throughout the day, I spoke of the active shooter training all teachers received at our school, shared some of the information we learned, but most importantly gave the students time to process these events—some students chose to ask questions and open up a dialogue, others wanted to chat with their shoulder partners, and a few remained dumbstruck by the gravity of a situation that struck so close to home.

As the day wore on, more and more students were willing to open up about their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and many of those who did opt to share had many insightful and poignant words on the matter. One student spoke of how she had lost an uncle to gun violence in a local neighborhood that has always seemed safe, and how her father, never originally a proponent of gun ownership, purchased and learned how to use a gun fearing his family’s safety after the loss of his brother. Another student spoke of the anxiety that all of these mass shootings have created, and that just last week when we had a fire drill he thought about how he and his friends would be easy targets for someone who wanted to harm them.

The most common theme that emerged from the students, though, was that something must be done to eliminate—or at least significantly reduce—gun violence here in our country and culture. Many of them debated ideas in an open and honest way, discussing how it must be a multi-pronged approach that includes better screening, raising age limits to purchase rifles of any kind, mental health resources, and most agreed that banning any and all types of assault rifles would be the prudent course of action. I sat back most of the time and listened, amazed that so much wisdom could come from high school juniors.

The lone interjection I made in much of these discussions was talking about the difference between Columbine, an event that happened nearly 20 years ago now, and what happened yesterday in Broward County. I told the students that when the Columbine shooting happened, the nation came to a standstill and was in utter shock that something like that could happen in the United States. Now, however, these mass shootings have happened so frequently, I was worried that we were becoming desensitized to them as a nation. In the last 18 months alone, we have had terrible shootings such as the Pulse nightclub, Vegas, the church in Texas, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and now this. Though there may be more, these are the ones that immediately came to mind. All of us spoke of how much the normalization of these shootings have changed the ways in which we react to them. One student lamented the fact that as she drove her younger brother home yesterday he quipped “that’s it?” when they announced the final death toll on the radio, almost as if, in her words, “he was expecting more or that it wasn’t enough.”

At the end of each class, all the students were grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about yesterday’s events and to process their feelings. While it may have cost us a day of curriculum, a great deal of non-traditional learning transpired. It was an open, engaging dialogue to hold with the next generation, and especially interesting to hear their views, hopes, and fears for what the future may bring. We all agreed that something must be done about the frequency and scope of the gun violence that has become so rampant lately, and sooner rather than later.

Our collective hearts and minds go out to all of the victims and their families, their communities, and the rest of the people who were in any way touched by this tragedy. But today’s discussions and the ones that are surely to follow are only the beginning of the healing that is necessary the day after a senseless act of violence such as this. It will take time for all of us—especially our children—to recover from it, but we can help each other through this ordeal by lending to one another a listening ear and compassionate heart.