October 10, 2015

Reflections on Gun Violence as a Teacher

As a teacher, I am a small blip in the lives of many people.

I made a few students cry this week by giving them "zeros" on assignments that included plagiarised material.

I've handed out a lot of tissues and advice to students who are going through life's struggles while trying to also pass my class. I've said, "Let's walk over to the counseling center together."

I've celebrated students' successes in my class and beyond. Study abroad, landing an RA-ship, getting a scholarship, even meeting a boyfriend/girlfriend via one of my group projects.

Today I can add a new and very painful part of being a teacher: losing a student to gun violence.

There was a shooting at Northern Arizona University, where I completed my master's degree and also taught full-time. I heard the news last night.

This evening, I found out that the student who was killed had been in my class in 2013.

I recognised his name, and although the news source I was reading mis-identified him as a freshman, looking at the photos confirmed my suspicion. He was a friendly and smiley guy who looked a lot like one of my childhood friends. I always wanted to call him "Ben" because of that. He sat in the front, which is a notable characteristic of a student, as most sit as far away from the teacher as possible. Although I remember that he occasionally came late, he participated in class discussions and turned in his assignments on time. By my account, he seemed like he would survive the challenges of college life just fine.

I did not count on one of those challenges being a bullet fired at his chest after a party. His life was taken away by an 18-year-old student who often posed for Instagram pictures with automatic weapons. I don't know the details of why the shooter brought out the gun, and I don't really care.

What I do care about is that gun violence appears in the news too often and the laws aren't changing. There have already been three shootings at university campuses this month. It is unacceptable that guns are so readily available in our country, and that in states like Arizona, it is legal for college students to have guns on campus as long as they are in a car. Moreover, I don't believe that civilians need guns at all, and I definitely don't think 18-year-old should have guns.

I'm sick of seeing gun violence in the news, and I'm heartbroken that someone who I knew was killed in such a senseless way. As a teacher and as a human being, I believe it's time to change our laws to be sensible in a world where gun violence has become normal, and where parents have to worry about their children going to school, to a theatre, or to a mall. Limiting the availability of guns is the first step to stopping gun violence and needless death.