Why I Wear My Teacher ID Badge

March 21, 2019

In 25 years of teaching I never used to wear my district-issued teacher ID badge. I figured everyone in my building knew who I was. It seemed unnecessary.

Last year, however, I started wearing it on a daily basis. What changed?

I recently served on former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s School Safety Task Force.

As an NBCT (MC/Gen) and Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016, I have embraced opportunities to serve as an advocate and spokesperson for teachers. I was honored to join fellow educators, a high school student, a parent, members of the law enforcement community, and mental health professionals to address issues related to school safety and issue a report to the governor at his behest.

I worked on a subcommittee led by Kyle Guerrant, Assistant Superintendent from the Michigan Department of Education. We addressed two key issues, which became the “education” component of the 29 recommendations in the plan. They involve identifying aspects of a positive recognition program for best practices in school safety and recommending alternatives to current school disciplinary actions to shift toward restorative practices.

The other subcommittees worked on law enforcement-related issues, including fortifying the physical plant of school buildings, and student emotional health concerns.

In all, the recommendations which meant the most to me were those related to the improvement of students overall emotional and mental health as they are they tend to address the root causes of the violence. They focus on building cultures and creating climates where no student goes unnoticed, where no one falls through any systemic cracks and where issues are addressed in a timely, constructive fashion when they arise.

These include:

  • placing more emphasis on promoting the statewide “OK2SAY” anonymous tip line for students to report threats or concerns.
  • expanding the strategic use of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports to include the use of an Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) bringing together Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and School Mental Health (SMH) systems.
  • increasing funding and availability of onsite behavioral health services for K-12 students with mild to moderate mental health issues.
  • training all school staff on the signs and symptoms of common mental health concerns among children and youth.
  • establishing and maintaining a comprehensive screening and assessment system to detect mental health issues

The report is perhaps as meaningful for what it does not contain as what it does. There is no mention of hot button political issues such as common sense gun control or arming teachers. There isn’t even any mention of active shooter response training – such as ALICE.

Like many educators, I walk into school most days wondering whether it will be my last. I think about all the permutations of how I would respond if someone walked into my classroom with guns drawn.

Which leads back to why I wear my ID badge. I want to be easily identifiable, amidst the chaos of a potential mass shooting, as a “good guy.”

I envision scenarios unfolding and the movie in my mind. Every time my thoughts drift to school violence, I come to the same conclusion that many of us have – if someone is intent on doing harm, they will find a way, regardless of how many millions of dollars we spend “hardening our targets.” That being said, I understand that a multipronged plan which contains robust, onsite mental health services is a key component in preventing more mass shootings.

Ultimately, Governor Snyder accepted our recommendations and committed $25 million  from the state’s general fund to begin to address security and physical plant upgrades. It is a start.

Hopefully, one day school shootings will be a thing of the past and we will point to this time when people from many communities came together and collaborated to insure the safety of all. We have much more work until that vision becomes a reality.

Rick Joseph, NBCT

Rick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5th and 6th grade at Covington School in suburban Detroit since 2003. He previously served as a bilingual educator (Spanish) and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. Rick served as the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year. In that role, he helped introduce the Michigan State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students in 2016.