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Next generation of teachers graduating into uncertain and scary world

Educators say they often don't feel safe doing their job. So how do you prepare the next generation of teachers to still go to work every day?

COLORADO, USA — Dr. Rosemarie Allen gets to see future teachers from the very start of their academic career.

She’s an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at MSU Denver’s School of Education.

“There’s nothing more magical than to see them graduating, knowing that within months they’ll have their own classrooms,” she said.” They’re very excited about touching the life of a child and their family. They are convinced they can change the world in one generation.”

But the next generation of teachers is graduating into an uncertain and often scary world - where lockdown drills are part of school life, just like math class, and school shootings are no longer infrequent.

What happened at East High School is a reminder of how scary it is,” she said. “What we know is, we do not have enough mental health positions at our schools and children are being punished rather than being treated. When you look at what happened at East, here you have people who are not mental health professionals implementing a safety plan that requires a child to be pat down every day. What if we had that child in treatment, actually being treated, because what we’re seeing is these plans are addressing the manifestation of mental health issues.”

A survey by the Colorado Education Association found nearly 70% of teachers are "very" or "somewhat" worried about a mass shooting at their school. Educators have shared their fears, and said many have considering leaving the profession.

So how can you prepare future teachers for the reality of these on-the-job challenges?

“We can’t afford for what’s happening today to scare teachers out of the workforce. And of course, they did not sign up for the lockdowns, and the drills, and those strategies in and of themselves are retraumatizing,” Dr. Allen said.

“One of the things I tell my students who are going to be teachers is, we can’t control every variable. And shootings are not just happening at school. They’re happening in theaters, in grocery stores, in churches, parking lots, everywhere. And we have to be vigilant, we have to keep our students safe, you have the added responsibility of 20-30 children in your classroom. And while it's not what we signed up for, unfortunately in America right now, this is status quo.”

“Since [the shooting at] Columbine, our center has been about getting the very best things we know from research could help support schools and communities to be safe,” said Dr. Beverly Kingston, the Director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU Boulder.

The Center researches violence and prevention, along with healthy child development, and partners with groups like schools and communities to put that research into practice.

“We want to make sure we’ve got strategies that support all kids, throughout development: social emotional learning programs, life skills programs. Then we want to make sure we have programs for those at higher risk…  then we need to have programs [and strategies] … for those that are already exhibiting concerning behaviors for violence,” she said. “Prevention and intervention at all those three levels.”

Dr. Allen said a large part of training new teachers is helping them understand what child development looks like, including challenging behavior.

“That’s our role in our teacher education department, to make sure we’ve prepared [teachers]  in the best ways we know how. That they know about trauma informed care. They know about equity. They understand the need for mental health experts. So they feel they have a pretty good treasure chest of tools and strategies,” she said.

“But at the same time, the fear of school shootings, how do you really prepare students for that, in a way they feel they’re going to be safe? That is not a school issue. That is a law enforcement issue. And something has to happen at that level for teacher to go to their classrooms, to feel good about teaching, to feel they’ll be safe, and their students be safe.”


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