Evanston news delivered free to your inbox!
I am writing to you as a tired, retired literacy teacher.
I am tired of state testing guidelines changing every three years; I am tired of legislators adding new Senate bills that increase teacher lesson-planning on nonacademic topics such as “How to Use Social Media Responsibly”; and I am tired of killings and weapons in schools.
When I began my teaching training program in 1989, I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I earned a M.Ed. in instructional leadership for my Illinois state teaching license. During my practicum teaching and student teaching, I was assigned to two different Chicago high schools: One had metal detectors, one did not.
The school with the metal detectors, Lakeview High School, also required that teachers lock classroom doors – both when students were inside and outside the rooms – to ensure absolute safety for its staff and students. Initially, I was alarmed and uncomfortable by these protective measures. Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into? I fretted, entering the building my first week. But, like any new situation, with time this unease dissipated.
The faculty at Lakeview High School were a strong cohesive group; school leaders were grateful and respectful to their committed teaching staff; and the school provided a warm, supportive environment for its students. Most days, the student groups I worked with were happy, engaged and safe.
Two months later, I was assigned to Lincoln Park High School, a school not too dissimilar from ETHS – a thriving institution with a diverse student body, an excellent reputation and an engaging curriculum which included an International Baccalaureate program for students in grades 9-12. However my experience student-teaching here was fraught with both fear and discomfort.
As I mentioned earlier, Lincoln Park High School did not have metal detectors.
Students were allowed to come and go with cavalier ease, often with arrogant disregard toward authority figures, on the school’s open campus. Resource books were taken from the library and thrown down stairwells from the third floor during passing periods – just for grins. Yes, students were hit on the head and hurt. Passing periods were loud and chaotic, and as a teacher-in-training during my final weeks, when I was left alone without my mentor teacher, I was threatened by an angry freshman demanding personal information about one of my students. I did not feel safe in their building. Students in the non-baccalaureate program were generally protected from some, but not all, of these events. However, my overall perception was that students here felt harried, hostile and unhappy. In fact, one, a transfer from Lakeview High School, revealed in a writing assignment that he hated the disorder at Lincoln Park and wished to return to his former school.
So, what’s the point of my “Tale of Two Schools”?
Schools have been morally obligated to create school climates that are safe and caring since their inception. However, the conditions under which schools operate today have changed profoundly from when we adults were students.
We live in an increasingly violent world. Half of all personal weapons sold in the world are owned by Americans. Students must practice annual intruder-alert drills in preparation for unwanted gun violence. Public schools have to continue teaching and shepherding students through their formative years in preparation for adult life in an unpredictable world.
Yes, there may be short-term psychological costs as students adjust to entering schools through metal detectors, but, with time, it will pass. They’ve already grown used to passing through detectors in airports, with no memory of life before them.
I would much rather see students and teachers suffer through acclimating to metal detectors than live with the ongoing loss and pain of PTSD after witnessing a school shooting – if, in fact, they’re one of the fortunate ones not shot.
Speaking as a graduate of ETHS, I know that the community of Evanston will do everything in its power to guarantee a safe environment for all its students, teachers and staff. It may not appear the way everyone wants it to, but it will be what is best for the collective good.