When the sons and daughters of Baltimore County, having been educated at the most suburban of public high schools and the most exclusive of private ones, say things like, “What I really want to do is teach in Baltimore City,” we, the local grown-ups, are often the ones who shoot them down.
Instead, we should arm them — with our support.
Even though the young people saying these words are often brilliant and extraordinary, the ones who often have known since they were little exactly what they wanted and what it would take to get it, they quickly learn that the adults are apt to dismiss their calling as “misguided,” their idealism as “naive.” Though we have managed to respond to even the most ridiculous and unsustainable career paths of our friends’ kids and our kids’ friends with encouraging platitudes — like "Go for it!" and "How will you know if you don't try?" — we question the kid’s judgment.
"The city? Really? No."
"Baltimore City is so dangerous," we tell them, even though it turns out, so are high schools in comfortable suburbs of Florida. Our children "want to be of service, to make a difference," they insist, which, if I remember right, is what we grown-ups always told them to do; we said it was the highest calling. Every parent knows how unsettling it is to have your own words used against you in the heat of the moment and this throws us, so we up the ante and try undercutting their resolve: "That is not what you want," we say, sometimes with a condescending chuckle. "Trust me," we continue, as if we know a thing about it, "I know you do not want to teach in Baltimore City."
Should this young person be resilient or rebellious enough to press on against this sabotage, making it to the classroom, they will definitely need to be packing heat. Especially since the classrooms, it turns out, are so very cold.
What do you say we arm these teachers with dignity, so that they feel valued in the professional workplace? So that they have a fighting chance of conveying that basic human value to the even younger people sitting before them in their parkas because the grown-ups in charge could not manage to keep the heat on? (And still we wonder where the feelings of worthlessness begin and end, the hopelessness, the violence.)
I understand that this business of funding is complex, state funding versus school district versus you-didn't-use-the-money-right versus that's-not-what-happened. I have raised four teenagers, and so “I don't care how you get it done; just get it done” is a real thing that I have said; I have a short fuse when the finger pointing gets out of hand.
The volume of things that our teachers and our students and our city needs is so deep and so wide that it is easy for even the least informed of us to list some of them rapid-fire: acceptable buildings, supplies and funding, professional development and personal support. Advocacy, representation, professional boundaries. Partnership from community and family, a small gesture of acknowledgment, our unending gratitude. A future for their charges — free from corruption and record-setting violence. Hope.
There is no silver bullet; we can agree on that. But giving teachers guns?
It reminds me of another real thing that I have often said to teenagers, which is “That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard.”
Let's arm our teachers with what they need to teach effectively, to fight the good fight, to pursue what is the highest ideal.
Beth Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Baltimore County parent; her daughter is a teacher in Baltimore City.