Armed Educators: What Your Kids' Teachers Say

Armed Educators: What Your Kids' Teachers Say

By David Himmel

"20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to ... immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions."
— President Donald Trump in a Tweet
"Educators need to be focused on teaching our students."
— National Education Association President Lili Eskelsen García

Today, and every school day that follows, students, teachers, administrators, custodians, office staff and parents will be at risk for a mass shooting to take place on campus.

As long as there is evil in the world and mental illness and assault rifles and gun-free zones, a school shooting will be possible. These are the arguments made to explain or define or comfort us each time a shooting like what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14 occurs. Each tragedy is its own, but they’re all the same. People will die. Lives will be shattered. Faith will be challenged or reinforced.

America the Great has a lot of mass shootings. (And when I use the phrase “mass shootings,” I’m using it to describe the firing off of weapons in a public setting injuring many, not the killing of four or more people in a private home by a grumpy dad, pissed off teen or fed up mom, as “mass shooting” has been defined in other instances. Let’s not let semantics get in the way of what we all know we’re discussing here.) Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine… These are the schools that come to mind. Never mind the Las Vegas mass shooting, the Texas church mass shooting and the others. These tragedies exist in the top drawer of our collective memory filing cabinet. Each time a new mass shooting happens, we easily pull them out for reference so that we can have the same debate over what the solution is to protect our loved ones, our children, our community, our country. Still, we get nowhere.

That they need to be prevented is not in question. How they are prevented, or at least, become less frequent, is where the question lies. Hopes and prayers, more cops, more guns, and the most popular that is being championed by President Donald Trump — the most specific potential solution offered by a standing American president — arming teachers with tactical and weapons training. Although, Trump has given few specifics yet about any program that would make choice teachers their own kind of Detective John Kimble.

Deputy Scot Peterson was assigned to protect Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. He failed. Despite the Broward County Sheriff’s Department receiving numerous reports about Cruz extending back several years, Peterson did not engage. He stayed outside, away from the fray taking cover. He was with the sheriff’s department for over 32 years — a trusted veteran of law enforcement. He was subsequently suspended without pay before being forced into retirement. 

There is, like with the wreckage every mass shooting leaves behind, a lot of heated debate that becomes so much white noise in our age of hyper-personal digital soap boxes and countless news outlets and blogs. And yes, perhaps Literate Ape is part of the white noise problem. For many, if not most, and I’d hedge every dollar I have and the soul of my first born that for everyone, the messaging and options gets overwhelming. There’s no shame in that. There’s a lot to take in and the stakes are high.

I know a few teachers. And being a man of facts, a journalist by degree and suspect of all emotion, I sought out my teacher connections. If I’m to understand — if any of us are to understand — what the idea of an armed faculty means, and if it is wanted and warranted, it is only responsible to seek out the thoughts and opinions of those teachers — the very people who will be given that great responsibility.

The cross section of educators were happy to talk with me for this piece, but they requested to remain anonymous because of the knee-jerk emotional and political impact their comments could have in their communities, which could hinder their ability to effectively teach and care for their students.

The teachers I spoke with are of different teaching areas, have different political leanings and are of different ages and expertise. I spoke with a special education teacher who told me that Nikolas Cruz is exactly the kind of kid who would have been her student; an elementary school art teacher; a CPS teacher; an elementary school principal and a former advertising professional who recently shifted careers to become a teacher.

"The thing is, there are concealed carry laws throughout the nation. Those laws and regulations are meant to mitigate those risks. But the risk is carrying. The cops come in and they’re looking for an active shooter. There’s confusion. They could see a teacher with a weapon and wonder if the shooter has an accomplice."

Eighth Grade Special Education Teacher
Chicago Southwest Suburbs Public School
30 years on the job

The most important things for a student to walk away with each day is the feeling that they are important and smart and can be productive. I think that if children don’t feel safe, they’re not learning. Teachers are all about safety — psychologically and physically. They should feel that their teachers would do anything to help them and be there for them.

I wouldn’t be afraid of a teacher carrying a gun. There is one retired teacher I know who I would feel safe around. It was his demeanor, it was like having a cop around. I understand that people are nervous about this. I think most gun owners are responsible gun owners. All the ones I know are responsible and don’t really want to carry. It comes with a lot of responsibility to be that person. To be that hero.

This sticker in school building windows is a bad idea.

This sticker in school building windows is a bad idea.

I don’t have a gun. But I do have a FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card, so does my husband, and we’ve been talking about getting one. If I was expected to defend a classroom, I don’t know what I would do. Even if I had training, I don’t know that I could do that. Even with training — whether it was a gun or judo. I would use that to defend myself or my child in a minute. But I don’t know if I would do that in a restaurant or a public place.

For the government to think they have any budget to do any of this is ludicrous. I don’t know that you couldn’t tap into people within the community. 

The thing is, there are concealed carry laws throughout the nation. Those laws and regulations are meant to mitigate those risks. But the risk is carrying. The cops come in and they’re looking for an active shooter. There’s confusion. They could see a teacher with a weapon and wonder if the shooter has an accomplice.

A couple of years ago, the principal of my school was putting up a “No Guns” sign in the window. I laughed because that won’t stop someone from bringing a gun in. Gun-free zones tell people that no one there has a gun. It’s advertising that this place has no way of defending itself. Would you put a sign up in your front lawn that says, “No Watchdog!” “No Alarm!”? Why would we advertise this?

Elementary School Art Teacher
Chicago Western Suburbs Public School
17 years on the job

Hopefully they leave school each day having learned something new in a lesson or made a new friend or just have a positive idea of what school is and want to come back tomorrow. 

I was surprised after the Florida school shooting — surprised that it was happening again. But there’ve been so many that you’re not super surprised anymore. You’re kind of numb to it.

I own a gun and have a FOID card and did the conceal and carry classes. I don’t carry. There are too many places where you can’t have it. I also don’t think teachers should have any guns. Once the students know that a teacher’s armed, what’s preventing them from jumping the teacher and trying to get that gun? I don’t even tell students I have an Xacto knife in my desk, and my kids are between 3 and 8 years old.

Weapons training? Ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s so hard to get the help we need for the kids already. There are so many hoops. Are we going to take cops off the streets or military from doing what they’re doing all the time? No. If someone comes in, my plan is to run and hide. If there’s a lockdown, I would check the hallways and when it’s clear, I’d tell the kids to run. 

If you’re at a restaurant and someone comes in there with a gun, you don’t just sit there, you start throwing shit and then you run. How distracting is that? I have spray adhesive and Xacto knives and spray paint…

Thing is, if you shoot a gun and you miss and hurt someone else or kill them… there’s a lawsuit, there’s a big mess. Look at cops. People already disrespect teachers and hate us — they blame us for behavior problems and low test scores — they’ll hate us even more. If they want an armed person in the school, you have a security professional or a cop. Like we have a school nurse, someone who’s job is specifically to do that thing.

"Weapons training? Ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s so hard to get the help we need for the kids already."

Eighth Grade Humanities Teacher
Chicago Public Schools
5 years on the job

Our kids are 87 percent Latino, 90 percent poverty. But our kids are really close. We are a high achieving school. These kids need to think that their teachers care about them. That’s the very foundation of education. If they know you care about them — even if they think we don’t like them — they need to feel that we care. If they know you care about them, then they will try to do whatever you want them to do. They need to feel safe physically and psychologically. If a kid doesn’t feel safe in school, they’re not going to learn anything.

I wish I was surprised [about the Florida shooting] but I’m just not. It’s very much to the point where the initial reaction is "It's been a few weeks." It’s sad because I’ve felt almost unfazed by it, which is depressing. When things like this come up, it sends a ripple and things don’t land the way they should.

I don’t own a gun. I spend five to six hours a day in front of groups of 30–35 eighth graders. Nobody in that situation should have a gun. Nine out of ten times, the people who are shooters are former students or people from the community. I cannot imagine shooting my own student. Emotionally, psychologically I could not. I don’t think I could shoot anyone. When I was a teenager, I wanted to, and did, punch people really hard, but I’ve never wanted to bring lethal force to them.

"I'd like you to draw your favorite weapon in the classroom. Very good, Jeanine!"

"I'd like you to draw your favorite weapon in the classroom. Very good, Jeanine!"

If this were to happen, I don’t even know what I would do. I don’t know that I could do the job. If education became a mandate that people were armed to do their job, I don’t think it would be the right thing for me. It’s such a stupid idea. In my community, teachers having guns don’t make them feel safe.

This is kind of a strange thing for me. My students don’t fear this sort of thing. They don’t live in a world of a general sense of doom. What they fear is specific threats. They have real daily things to be afraid of. And not necessarily violence in an assault rifle way, but in a domestic violence sort of way, or my family is in gangs sort of way. The level of desperation in my community doesn’t find itself in extremes. People in my community don’t snap because they’re already broken. It’s hard to imagine one of my kids saying, "Fuck it, I’m gonna kill everybody."

Part of education is to teach coping and social skills. This is the big push for Social Emotional Learning. Our discipline is very positive as opposed to "You’re a good kid; you’re a bad kid." We try to be restorative. I think it goes a long way. I can see where having armed security in certain schools might be something people want. If I had the discretionary money to spend on our school, I would put it toward mentors. Interventions pay for themselves, but there’s such a lack of resources that you can’t always do them. There’s not enough time or resources to do all this.

We — teachers — have so much to do. I don’t have time to clean my room or make copies. So now I have to worry about cleaning my rifle or making sure I have ammo? It’s nuts that they’d pay me to go to a firing range but not for professional development.

I could list 50 things that could go wrong [with arming teachers] before I could list one thing that could go right. They’re going to know immediately what teachers have the guns. What if they jump you? An eighth grader could easily jump a smaller teacher. Or think about the parents. I don’t want to have a meeting with a parent and they know that I might be armed. You lose a measure of mutual respect when there’s implied violence. It develops a culture of fear and that’s not what we’re teaching. We’re teaching a culture of respect.

Elementary School Principal
Urban Nevada School District
2 years on the job, 15 years in elementary education

Our school is the closest to being a rural school in an urban setting. We sit on the steps of a mountain range. Our school is diverse; about 30 percent Latino, 30 percent black, 30 percent white and 10 percent mixed. We have about 600 kids, 60 percent of whom get a free and/or reduced lunch. And our parents are very involved; 97 percent attend parent-teacher conferences. 

My focus is on instruction, but it’s also around creating well-rounded human beings. I want my students to think that happiness is possible, that they can be happy children, and eventually happy adults.

Student happiness is directly influenced by caring teachers teaching. And Annie Oakley-like performances by those teachers.

Student happiness is directly influenced by caring teachers teaching. And Annie Oakley-like performances by those teachers.

You can’t look at the death of any of those kids and not think it’s a tragedy. We’ve all asked ourselves: What can we do with this? And no solution is easy. 

The district trains monthly on Hard Lockdown Scenarios. These are meant to test teachers during that time. We’ll hide kids, block certain exits. We try to make that scenario as practical as we possibly can. A hard lockdown is still something kids are nervous about. We explain to them that someone is on campus or in the building intending to do us harm. Compared to a fire drill, they know the seriousness of a hard lockdown.

I do believe that these procedures would be effective in a real-world scenario. 

If you walked in the front door of our school brandishing a gun, you’re going to impact and effect the office people first. So the first thing I’m going to do if I hear or see something, I’m going to put the school in hard lockdown. All of our pods are individually locked and all the classrooms are individually locked as well. If a hard lockdown is triggered, no fire alarm will draw them out. If a fire did occur, there are emergency fire-resistant doors that would activate, further protecting us. 

Our school district has its own armed police force. We don’t have anyone stationed on campus. Most police are stationed at larger high schools. We are only a few blocks from a high school with an active force, and they could be on our campus in mere minutes during an attack.

The weight of this responsibility is very difficult. We all come to work each day knowing that this could happen. Each time it happens anywhere else, we have to revisit our procedures. We sit down and discuss where we may be vulnerable, and then we take proactive steps. We make sure exterior doors are locked at all times, and make sure we have the correct number of sweepers.

I live in the community where I am principal. I see parents and kids everywhere — at the park, in the grocery store. This not only affects your school where you serve as a leader but also with the people you see on a regular basis. My role in this community doesn’t stop at the doors of the school.

I do own a gun. I use it for range shooting practice should I ever need to defend my home from an intruder. Nevada has open carry laws. I never open carry and I would never bring my gun into school. I feel that as a principal, the best way to keep my school safe is to lead the hard lockdown, not to try to stop an armed gunman myself. We have the school district police for that. Giving teachers and administrators guns is not an option.

If it was the will of the public to have an armed member on staff, it would be my hope that they would be treated like an air marshal. They would not be teachers. They would be someone who’s sole purpose is to manage safety and handle compliance issues such as submitting training documentation, and assist us with training and reaction with these safety drills. We’re given training, but if we had someone on staff whose sole function was that, well, that’s a feasible situation.

"My focus is on instruction, but it’s also around creating well-rounded human beings. I want my students to think that happiness is possible, that they can be happy children, and eventually happy adults."

Middle School Language Arts Teacher
Chicago Western Suburbs Public School
First full semester on the job

I want my kids to feel more confident than when they walked in to school that day. Our job is to help them be better versions of themselves. They should grow in some way. I’m trying to make them a little bit better at something. Academically, psychologically…

Having my own classroom of kids now, the gravity of protecting them really hit me. I feel an onus for their psychological well-being. I would have to be the one to protect them.

If we had to arm teachers, I suppose they should get a handgun of some sort. And they should be trained by gun experts. Not necessarily the government or the school. What you’re training is how to think the right way, how to use the gun in that situation. 

But I think the negatives outweigh the positives. Just bringing guns in schools is a bad idea. Teachers have to make four million decisions a day. Then they suddenly have to make more dire, fatal decisions… it’s just not fair.

I Believe… [WOLVERINES!]

I Believe… [WOLVERINES!]

Your Life is a Work-in-Progress

Your Life is a Work-in-Progress