Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

American teachers demand voice in school shootings debate

Forum also hears educators' worries about violent online games that entrench children in a 'fantasy land'

Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. AP
Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. AP

US teachers say they are being left out of the conversation about school gun violence that continues to wreak tragedy on American communities.

Educators told an audience at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai that those on the front lines are being ignored.

Teachers, government officials and prominent figures in education are meeting on Saturday and Sunday to tackle the biggest issues facing education today. Organised by the Varkey Foundation, the event culminates with the $1 million Global Teacher Prize for the best educator on Sunday night.

Nadia Lopez, principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn said "what is always missing at every level in education is the voice of the teacher".

"We are told what to do, but we are not asked what are the challenges in getting it done," she said.

Ms Lopez described a situation at her school where a pupil’s behaviour worried her - though people did not take her concerns seriously at first.

"I was made to feel its not that big a deal when in fact it was," she said.

"I had a scholar battling a mental health issue and a home situation that became threatening. He had been engaging in self-inflicting behaviour. Only after the pupil created a manifesto did people accept that there was a problem. The hospital worked in partnership with the school to understand this child really needed help.

"Communication can end a lot of the destruction that we see."

Last year's forum took place just a month after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018 that left 17 people dead.

Several survivors spoke at the event in Dubai last year and the issue has returned to the forum.

The US Varkey Teacher Ambassadors and others in the country started a national coalition and hosted a summit to look at how further shootings can be prevented. Gun control advocates were angered by the Trump administration's report in December that suggested arming staff and did not back raising the age limit for owning a handgun from 18.

Ms Lopez believes children are often left to play games that include violence.

“When children are so entrenched in these games, they’re missing on opportunities outside of their homes," she said, speaking at the forum at Atlantis.

She said these games almost become a part of their reality and they don’t know how to distinguish between what is real and what is not. She also said there is a lack of support for her profession.

"Teachers need social and emotional support. They are having to do the curriculum and assessments and have to live their own lives. The mental health component is not there," she said.

"We have to be responsive. We need to have a conversation about why this is happening. Listen to their responses. So many of them are desperate to be heard."

Mark Vondracek, a teacher at Evanston Township High School in Chicago, also said teachers feel ignored.

"Let the teachers have a voice at the table. We are interested in controlling gun control issues but are losing at the root cause," he said.

Updated: March 23, 2019 08:34 PM

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