“What would you do if a student brought a gun into your classroom?”
The question was initially met with an uncomfortable silence in my ASU 101 course, a class filled with freshmen in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Then, the small group of 18 or 19 aspiring educators began to open up.
Some said they would try to peacefully defuse the situation. Others were willing to take a more active approach and would tackle the student to the ground. A few insisted they couldn’t be sure unless they were in that position.
Our professor followed up with a more morbid question: “Would you be willing to die for your students?”
Now, as a junior in the education school, it’s still a question with which I have to grapple.
On Tuesday, a 12-year-old boy brought a gun to his Nevada middle school and shot and killed his 45-year-old math teacher, Michael Landsberry, after Landsberry tried to resolve the situation. The student, a seventh grader named Jose Reyes, also wounded two other students before fatally shooting himself.
My mother told me about the incident. With a nervous laugh, I responded, “I guess teaching really is a dangerous profession, huh?” I also expressed my heartache for Landsberry, his family and his students. Landsberry was apparently a popular teacher.
Two days later, I stepped out with a fellow State Press editor and friend to grab some food. The topic of the Nevada shooting came up again.
“He was probably bullied,” I said casually — too casually — as we waited in line at Smashburger. I spoke, of course, of the 12-year-old Reyes.
She ended up asking me the same question my ASU 101 professor did two years ago: “Would you be willing to die for your students?”
Fittingly, I gave the same answer my ASU 101 peers and I did two years ago: “Absolutely.”
As it turns out, many do speculate Reyes’s motivation behind bringing a gun to school was to retaliate against the bullying he allegedly endured.
Bullying is a serious problem in the U.S. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, 15 to 30 percent of students bully or are bullied.
Perhaps more disturbing, however, is that 25 percent of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and intervene in only 4 percent of bullying incidents. This suggests that bullying is largely ignored by educators.
Why is it that teachers are willing to stand between their students and a bullet but shy away from standing up to a bully?
A professor in one of my secondary education courses suggested it’s because many teachers are unsure of what to do, feel it would be awkward or think it’s none of their business.
I expect teachers to be better. I expect myself to be better.
If we know a student is in distress, if we know a student is being harassed by a peer, why wouldn’t we would do something? Why wouldn’t we intervene before picking up a firearm ever crossed the mind of a tortured student?
Do all students who are bullied bring a gun to school? No. Does the fact that Reyes was potentially bullied excuse his behavior? No.
Yet, if we continue to ignore bullying, to brush it over, to pretend it doesn’t happen, to say it isn’t our problem, to resist doing everything in our power to protect our students from a bully as we would a bullet — for some students, there will come a time when they either point the gun at themselves or someone else.
Even if there were a major change in the way educators react to bullying, tragedy will still strike. Educators will still turn a blind eye to bullying in the hallway. Bullies will still bully. The bullied will still be bullied.
In an ideal world though, teachers and administrators would take preventative action to curb bullying, so that ASU 101 professors never have to ask, “What would you do if a student brought a gun into your classroom?”
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