Heidi Crumrine: Arm teachers with resources

For the Monitor
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I enjoy the walk from my classroom out of the building at the end of the day. It is refreshing for me to see kids so relaxed and happy in the moment. They are reconnecting with friends and enjoying time together before heading off to home or work or after school activities. The paths they take after leaving school are often very different; these final moments of the day are their chance to touch base before beginning those journeys. School is their home base – and as much as they love to bemoan it, it is their shared community and there is much power in that.

Walking out of school on Thursday, Feb. 15, the attitude was a lot different. The day before, a gunman murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. This was the 18th gun-related incident in a school since Jan. 1 alone.

As I walked down the hall, I overheard one student say to another, “It is just scary to think that one day you could go to school and then never come home.” My heart broke as I heard her friend reply, “It’s so unsettling; it just could happen anywhere.”

These bright and thoughtful young people, just on the precipice of adulthood, were not worrying about running off to a sports practice, they were worrying about being murdered while they attended school. School, the place that is the cornerstone of a community, has become a place where parents squeeze their children extra hard in the drop-off line, and where a loud noise sends kids into a panic.

How we can prevent these tragedies from happening again feels overwhelming for the average citizen. These issues intersect so complexly – they are social, moral, civic and, unfortunately, political.

There are many options: We can march, we can challenge our elected officials on issues of gun access and support of mental health services, we can encourage political engagement in the November elections, we can support our students when they speak out.

A common response to these tragedies from teachers nationwide has become a viral social media trend to #ArmMeWith the resources to support students who struggle. For example, to: Arm me with funding for enough mental health providers in every school; arm me with time during the school day to connect with those students who don’t have support at home; arm me with smaller class sizes so I can target the learning needs of my students. We aren’t talking about giving superfluous perks to teachers or schools, we are talking about having enough resources in a building so that the professionals can actually do their job. One of the most important jobs in our world today: Arming our young people with the support and tools they need to make our world a better place.

And yet it all still feels so hopeless. I want something more tangible, I want something that can help now. I know that I am not alone in this desire.

In New Hampshire, we do have something we can do. We can support our public schools, and we can do it right now. It’s town meeting/school budget season and this very minute local school boards are grappling with what they want to happen in their schools and how they will fund it. They base many of these decisions on the voices who reach out to them and speak up about their concerns. I do not believe that our school boards don’t want things like smaller class sizes, lower student-school counselor ratios than the established minimum of 1:500, full-day kindergarten, secure buildings and competitive teacher contracts. They just aren’t always able to pay for those things because they have to make devastatingly hard decisions.

We can’t have it both ways – we can’t complain about our taxes going up and then also complain that our public schools aren’t offering enough. Of course our school boards should be fiscally responsible, but remember that the reason our property taxes are so significantly impacted by school budgets is because of how school funding is distributed. Our state pits property rich towns against property poor towns. This in turn affects the equitable education that each town is trying to offer to its young people.

There are no easy answers, but if we want to arm our schools with resources to support its young people, we have to pay for it. The words of Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, sum this up perfectly: “A school is a promise that a community makes to itself that it will invest in its young people.”

Some might argue that the connection between preventing school violence and showing up to support schools at a town meeting is rather farfetched. One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a teacher is that I cannot control what goes on outside the four walls of my classroom, but I can control what goes on inside of it. The same holds true for us in New Hampshire right now. We cannot make major changes in gun legislation or public policy right now – but we can show up and make that promise to ourselves that the young people in our community matter and that we are arming their schools with the tools they need so that they can change the world.

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)