After an armed shooter killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, last week days before the school year was over, teachers across the state known for its notoriously lenient gun laws are concerned about returning to the classroom. There have already been 23 mass shootings across the country since May 21, and 27 school shootings since the start of 2022—returning to pre-COVID-19 levels and by some accounts, surpassing that. Since 1970, Texas has had 135 school shootings, including eight mass shootings in the last 13 years. While some people suggest arming teachers with guns as a solution, teachers in Texas say they want stricter gun laws and long-term investment in schools, education, and their communities.
For a sixth-grade math teacher in Austin, who requested to remain anonymous, gun violence has weighed so heavily on her mind that she may not return to the classroom in the fall. She has been teaching at the same public charter school for six years, but after she gave birth last year, the stakes are higher for her and her family.
“It is horrifying especially as a new mom,” she said. “It hit me differently.”
At her school, they practice active shooter drills every year, but at the start of this school year, her school was testing a new alarm system. Without any prior warning, her computer screen turned red, began alerting her to an active shooter in the building, and instructed her to seek shelter. She eventually was told that it was just a technological error, and she was never supposed to have received the alert, but the situation made her realize the heightened risks at play.
“I was pregnant and I was thinking to myself how before, I had thought that I would put myself between a shooter and my students, but now that I have a child that I’m carrying at this moment, well what choice would I make?” she said. “That was an awful thing to have to think about and luckily, I didn’t have to. It was a drill, but it just seems like there’s a bigger risk.”
For Megan, a college senior in San Antonio who wants to go into teaching after she graduates, the situation has directly impacted her desire to pursue a teaching career, and she has recently been considering teaching online instead of in person.
“It’s scary to think of where we are as a society and where we are in America,” Megan said. “It’s really sad. It definitely alters what I may want to do in the future.”
Megan’s sister, who is a high school teacher in a small town outside of Corpus Christi, Texas, was just in a lockdown situation on Thursday, May 26, while police were looking for a suspect in the neighborhood.
“It’s scary to think that something like [Uvalde] could happen to her any day anytime,” Megan said. “My sister is my best friend. If something were to happen to her, I don’t know what I would do.”
Megan said the solution is not arming teachers, but instead implementing stricter gun laws, with mental health and background checks for people purchasing weapons. She hopes that locals will vote for politicians who support gun control and reform in the fall. All 13 Texas Democratic senators wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott last week urging him to raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, and implement universal background checks for all firearm sales. But they are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled legislature.
“There’s no reason civilians need those weapons at all whatsoever,” Megan said. “I just think that’s ridiculous that people have access to weapons that can cause so much pain.”
The sixth-grade math teacher hopes that after taking a year off, she will return to teaching and that stricter gun laws will be passed to make her feel more comfortable in the classroom.
“I think assault rifles should be banned,” she said. “I don’t think it falls into the category of the ‘right to bear arms’ that our Founding Fathers intended. I wish no one had guns. I live in Texas, so I know that I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think assault rifles are necessary.”
Nora, an educator at an after-school arts enrichment and social justice program in Austin, said they learned about the shooting after students’ parents sent them text messages saying, “Thank you for keeping our babies safe.” The next morning, Nora discussed with their colleagues the best way to broach the topic with students, if it came up.
“There’s so much loss and grief in this country, mass shootings and COVID deaths, and just the abandonment of everyday people that we are seeing in so many places,” Nora said. “I was angry that I might have lie to my students and say that you’re safe here. That there’s no possibility that something bad could happen to you. It’s something that I deeply want to be true, but it isn’t.”
Teachers, who are already underpaid and under-supported, are many times asked to wear multiple hats for their students: educator, counselor, and caregiver. Now, many teachers feel they are being asked to stand in the front lines of mass shootings and protect their students in the absence of law enforcement.
“We ask a lot of our educators already, and then when you’re confronted with these really big structural realities and violence, there’s a limit to what we can do as individuals,” Nora said. “We need to act collectively to create safety for our students and for our colleagues and for our communities at large.”
While conservative lawmakers would like to arm teachers and increase police presence at schools, heightened school resource officer presence has also been linked to the school-to-prison pipeline.
“The police don’t actually create safety for us and when police are in the schools, it’s not to keep students safe,” Nora said. “It’s to arrest them and accelerate the school-to-prison pipeline and get them expelled or assault them.”
The solution, Nora posits, cannot be limited to gun control, because that would miss the larger cause of violence. They suggest investing in teachers, schools, and solutions that will prioritize community safety while confronting the root cause of the shootings—which for many has been misogyny and hatred toward women.
“We need to invest in our teachers, in housing, mental health, things that actually build life and create life,” Nora said. “I believe that whatever social cause or whatever fight that you’re invested in, if you are advocating for that, and it’s about creating safety, creating joy in your community, that is something that’s going to benefit teachers.”