Professor Anne Gutshall teaches psychology courses to future educators at the College of Charleston. Her students have a lot on their minds. From teacher walkouts nationwide over low pay to deadly mass shootings at schools, it’s a wonder they want to teach at all. But they do. They really do.
“There are problems and concerns,” said Gutshall. “But they want to make a difference. They want to do something powerful and bigger than themselves. It’s humbling and energizing. Professor Gutshall has been teaching at the College of Charleston for 13 years. Previously, she was a school psychologist. Her students are diverse and dedicated. They’ve just finished final exams but stick around for some final thoughts on a tough year in their chosen profession.
“Well, I’m a parent. So when I heard about it, it made me mad,” said Breanna King as she spoke about the latest school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. 17 students and faculty members were killed this past February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School allegedly by a former student. King and her college class of education majors say there was little talk of the massacre on campus. They were outraged.
“We have to keep talking about it instead of brushing it off like oh it happened again,” said Katherine Long. She’s a physical education major at the College of Charleston. She was pleased to see the Florida students turn that tragic moment into a movement. They organized school walkouts nationwide and demanded stricter gun laws. Washington responded with promises of better background checks for gun buyers and better mental health services. But there was also talk of hardening schools with more security and even arming teachers. The latter does not sit well with future teachers in professor Gutshall’s class.
“I personally would not feel comfortable having a gun on me as a teacher in the classroom,” said Rebekah Lyons. She’s an early childhood major who would like to someday serve as an education secretary. “But I do want to point out that I do support second amendment rights.”
Baily Poe wants to be an elementary school teacher. She calls the idea of arming teachers ridiculous. “Most of the people who’ve come in to shoot are kids and I don’t think I could ever pull the trigger on a kid.”
Beck Leonard grew up with guns. He’s a physical education major. “We are trying to take guns out of school, out of these kids hands yet we’re going to put more in the school. I don’t know how that makes sense.”
As for hardening schools with more security, these college students say softening schools may be a better approach. They want to create tight knit communities in their schools where all kids feel welcome and focus on mental health. Perhaps building bridges between educators and students, instead of walls they say, will help catch troubled kids before they slip through the cracks.
“I think schools should have more ability to help those students before they come to school with a gun,” said Katherine Long. “As soon as you add more security, as soon as you add more guns, as soon as you add more fences, instead of a school it becomes a prison.”
These future teachers don't worry about their own safety, although some admit their parents do. They are concerned about other issues like low pay, college debt, controlled curriculums and cuts to class like physical education. Joh Horoho is going into the Army after graduation but plans to come back to teach. He says physical education classes are critical. “There you can see Johnny who is normally a great team player is all of the sudden throwing his racket and I can physically see that there is an issue.”
Despite their concerns and all of the challenges, these future teachers are passionate about helping children and the careers they have chosen. They want to make a difference. Annie Grace Whitfield hopes to work with kids with special needs. “There are not many things that could deter me from being a teacher I think. From the first time I spent time with kids with disabilities, I knew that is what I was born to do.”
Classmate Breanna King nods in agreement. “I mean there’s nothing else I could do. Like even if I’m drowning in debt you know, I’m going to be a teacher.”