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    Teachers Take Action Against Gun Violence

    By Lyndsey Schlax, Laura Nielsen and Sonya Mehta–

    On February 15, 2018, teachers across the country walked into their schools steeled for yet another day spent reassuring students that they are safe, knowing that they wouldn’t actually believe their own words. Time and again, we ask students to trust us, to put aside their worries about safety, knowing full well that we can’t actually guarantee their protection from the violence in our communities, and that we can’t prevent that same outside violence from showing up in our schools over and over.

    Across social media, as always, teachers expressed their sorrow, their worry, their sense of feeling both powerless to stop their students from being murdered and completely responsible for stopping this. And, as always, the same frustrated questions followed: What can we do? How do we talk to our students about this? How do we take action? How do we keep them safe?

    This time, though, we had students in Florida and across the nation leading the way. They told us exactly what the young people in our classes would need to know, regardless of their age or where they lived—how to tell their stories, how to insist on the right to learn, how to work together for a common cause, how to speak up in the face of injustice, and how to apply classroom learning to solve real-world problems.

    Within 24 hours of the February 14th shooting, a small group of dedicated teachers in the Bay Area had established an online version of the in-person support we so often depend on, called Teachers Take Action Against Gun Violence (https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeachersTakeAction/). Within a week, that small circle of dedicated teachers had exploded to nearly 6,000 educators across the country. We suddenly had a wealth of inspiration, influence, and information being generated, exchanged, processed, challenged, multiplied and eventually published in the form of an educator’s toolkit (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1S_SotsHKTb9WpPRnzybdIt2rt-OFcf9z/view) to support students’ newfound passion for activism and an undeniable thirst for change.

    As the refreshing, yet familiar, task of following our students’ lead began, we dedicated ourselves resolutely to providing teachers with the tools to support, listen to, and educate their students about the reality they are currently living. Every day they are uncertain of their safety and are dealing with pressures and anxieties that inhibit their ability to learn. For teachers to support their students effectively, they also need to be supported and feel confident in their abilities and resources. This support most often comes from within the community of educators, and the story of Teachers Take Action is no different.

    “Regular” classroom teachers called on one another for resources, ideas, and responses; the ideas poured in. Teachers applied the tools they use daily to collaborate and meet the demands of their profession. They created graphic organizers, lesson plans, discussion starters, and ideas for developmentally appropriate actions for students ranging from pre-K through higher education. They collaborated in person with colleagues at their school sites and electronically with fellow educators across the nation, and collectively, made these challenging materials and conversations accessible to their students.

    As students called for marches, we marked our calendars, determined to plan the next month of class-time in a way that would set our students up for success as they set out to change our country.

    The testimonials we heard from teachers across the nation who used our toolkit were inspiring. Teachers shared photos of their students engaging in walkouts and peace marches on campuses in rural and urban areas, in red states and blue states, and from preschool age to high school seniors. Using what they learned from each other, and with the support of teachers who believe in the power of young activists, students organized outside of state buildings, set up memorials and performed poignant original artistic pieces, registered (and pre-registered!) their classmates to vote, and met with elected officials to make their case for reform.

    They shared examples of ways that they had used the curriculum guide with their students of all ages, and the feelings of empowerment that shone from their students’ faces. The work of teaching students about the world they will ultimately be in charge of is immensely complex, uncertain, powerful, beautiful, and terrifying. In this moment, we as educators are grappling with that complexity in unprecedented ways.

    It’s a hard feeling, to be so inspired by young people, and at the same time be grieving so intensely for them; to be thrilled at the groundswell of hope that they are bringing our country, and furious that we have given them this massive problem to fix; to see the enormous power that they hold in solidarity with one another, and to know how many people will try to stand in their way. As our students take the reins in this movement to make our schools safer, more empowering places to learn, and to hold their leaders accountable, we will be right there, alongside them.

    Lyndsey Schlax, Laura Nielsen, and Sonya Mehta are teacher leaders in the Bay Area. They are part of the founding team of teachers who created Teachers Take Action Against Gun Violence in February 2018. You can find out more about their work, and download their curriculum and resource toolkit (https://sites.google.com/view/teacherstakeaction/home).