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NEA Offical Reacts To Trump's Idea Of Arming Teachers


Teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., are going back to school today. This is the first time that staff members will be back on campus since a gunman killed 17 people there last week. Classes are supposed to resume next week. Now, while the teachers have been away, the role they play in protecting students has come into focus. President Trump is suggesting that arming more teachers would deter would-be shooters.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These people are cowards. They're not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns.

GREENE: Now, we should say several states already allow teachers to carry weapons, and more are considering it. But what do teachers think of this? Well, Becky Pringle is a teacher herself. She's also vice president of the National Education Association, which represents educators, and she joins us in our studios. Welcome.

BECKY PRINGLE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So the essential argument here the president is making is that schools are vulnerable because they're seen as soft targets - not as soft if teachers - more teachers would be armed. Are the teachers you hear from willing to take this step?

PRINGLE: David, everything that the president has said about arming teachers has been shocking to all of us. We spent 24 hours talking about it and not doing what our students have asked us to do, which is to protect them. They do not want us armed. Our teachers do not want to be armed. You know, I'm an eighth grade science teacher - the wonder years. I cannot even imagine having - on top of all the responsibilities I have teaching my students the wonders of science, making sure that they are valued and respected for the unique human beings they are, and now I'm being asked to carry a gun and make life-and-death decisions. That is absolutely not what we are trained to do and not what we want to do for our students.

GREENE: That sounds very personal. Like, that is not something you would be comfortable with. It sounds like that's not the message that you would want to send your students. But in some states that allow this, there are teachers who have guns already. Some say they want them and want the training. I mean, do you take issue with teachers if they make that decision themselves and want this?

PRINGLE: Of course we have teachers who own guns, and we know that they have personal decisions that they have to make. But for us to expect teachers to pass any kind of regulations or laws - expecting them to do that, that is unreasonable, and it is absolutely not what they went into teaching to do.

GREENE: OK. So you're saying that if a community decided to allow this, that's one thing, but it sounds like you just want to make sure that teachers are never forced into doing this. Is that what I'm hearing?

PRINGLE: Well, David, to be honest with you, one of the things that I've noticed since we lost those beautiful children last week is that they have risen up, and they are very clear on what they want. And what concerns me as a teacher is that we're not listening to them. We're not having a conversation about what they asked to have a conversation - us to have a conversation about. When we ask the students themselves if they want their teachers armed, they say, no.

They want to make sure that guns that have the ability to do the most amount of damage in the shortest amount of time are not allowed in the hands of anyone. That's what they've asked us to talk about and change, not whether or not to arm teachers. That does not make them feel safer, and we don't want to create an environment where it's a prison with the teachers as prison guards, armed prison guards, and the students as prisoners. That is not the kind of environment that's conducive to good teaching and learning.

GREENE: How much has this job changed since, say, Sandy Hook, since Columbine?

PRINGLE: (Laughter).

GREENE: You're laughing there. I suppose it's changed a lot.

PRINGLE: Oh, my gosh.

GREENE: I mean, I wonder if some teachers are reconsidering this career because of these mass shootings.

PRINGLE: We do worry about that, David. I've taught for over 30 years, and we were not having these kinds of conversations when I went into the classroom. But one of the things that the students are saying is never again, never again. And the first school should have been the last school, but they are standing up and saying, this will be the last one. So we want to make sure that we're listening to what they're saying and doing what they're asking of us. We want to make sure that we're listening to our educators and doing what they need to support their students. So we are absolutely concerned that we don't have enough educators as it is in our classrooms. We want to make sure that we create the kind of environment where they feel safe and they can do the jobs they love.

GREENE: Becky Pringle is a middle school science teacher, and she's vice president of the National Education Association. Thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

PRINGLE: Thank you so much, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.