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Do teachers need to become a new type of First Responder?


Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day and I’d like to thank personally all of the teachers who will make a difference in students’ lives today…and on the other 364 days of the year. I’d also like to step back and take a look at the role teachers are being asked to play in light of recent events.

The news that the Sandy Hook teachers and staff killed in the tragedy were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor got me thinking about this. While it is altogether fitting to recognize these educators who gave everything to protect students, it also forces us to ask the difficult question, “what are we asking teachers to become?”

We are hearing a lot about arming teachers, self-locking doors, surprise active shooter drills and giving teachers panic buttons to call for help (which is what we do). It seems that we are asking our teachers to become “first responders.” And to a degree we are. But just as we have first responders dedicated to firefighting, police activity and emergency medical care, we need to ask our teachers to become a new specialized type of first responder – one that can create a healthy environment for learning while being always vigilant to the threat of violence.

But the task at hand for teachers is in many ways more complex than other first responders. A firefighter puts out a fire, EMTs treat people in need, but teachers are much more like community policing officers. They need to be aware of the dynamics of a community and promote positive goals within that community, while remaining always ready to take action when threats occur. But the goal is not only to “keep the peace,” but to teach, nurture and protect our children at the same time.  

This is a delicate balancing act, especially in light of the need for increased security in our schools. Security is vital but we can’t let the quest for safety to overshadow the need to create a positive, supportive learning process where students feel free and safe.

To that end, here are some observations about school safety and the evolving role of teachers.

  • It “can happen here” and teachers must be prepared to act. But we must engage teachers in the security process without them losing their focus on educating students in a positive and free environment. What this means is that teachers as “first responders” will need to be “eyes and ears” to report danger and be well prepared to follow the right procedures to protect students when an incident occurs.
  • Security is best when you know it's there, but don't see it in operation. This is especially true for students who should be free to focus on learning rather than the specter of violence. When security is obvious and overpowering, it becomes a constant reminder of danger instead of a reassurance against it.
  • We have got to find the right balance between ensuring safety and fostering learning. And the stakes are high as the loss of either could be equally tragic. Teachers will be at the forefront of whether we succeed or fail at this.

Regardless of what your feelings are about school safety, one thing is clear:  teaching has always been a challenging profession and it is becoming even more demanding in our changing world.

I’d like to end by again thanking our teachers for all their hard work and dedication and invite you to share your thoughts on teachers as a new kind of “first responder.” 


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