Arming Already Stressed Out Teachers Will Only Increase the Chance of School Shootings



It happened in Georgia yesterday.


A beloved social studies teacher locked himself in his classroom while his students stood outside the door.


When the principal came with the key, the teacher fired a handgun through an exterior window.


Students ran, one even twisting her ankle in the escape.


Thankfully, no one else appears to have been injured.


However, the incident brings into focus a vital component of the gun debate.


Teachers are already under tremendous stress.


Arming them won’t stop gun violence. All it does is add another potential shooter.


It’s only been about two weeks since a shooting at Stonemason Douglas High School in Florida left 17 dead.


That’s at least 19 school shootings so far in 2018 – and it’s only the beginning of March!


In that time, the national media and the Trump administration have focused on one specific solution to stopping such violence from happening again: giving teachers guns.


The latest incident in Georgia underlines why this is such a terrible idea.


Teachers are not super heroes.


Take it from me. I’m an almost 15 year veteran of the middle school classroom in western Pennsylvania.


We’re just human beings.


My colleagues and I have all the same human failings and weaknesses as everybody else.


We get tired and overworked and put upon and stressed and sometimes…


…Sometimes we don’t handle it well.


I know some people don’t want to hear it.


Society has piled all kinds of responsibilities and unreasonable expectations on our shoulders.


We’re no longer allowed to be just educators.


We’re parents, counselors, disciplinarians, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, nutritionists…. The list goes on-and-on.


And now politicians actually want us to add law enforcement to the job description?


We’re already under colossal pressure, and some folks want to add a gun to that situation?


That’s lighting a fuse.


But don’t just take my word for it.


Back in 2015, tens of thousands of educators filled out the Quality of Worklife Survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association.


After responses from 91,000 school employees and 31,000 who completed the entire 80-question survey, a picture of the emotional landscape became clear.


A total 73% of respondents said they often feel stressed at work.

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The reasons? Adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development (71%), negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media (55%), uncertain job expectations (47%) and salary (46%) were the most common responses.

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The survey identified the following as most common everyday stressors in the workplace – time pressures, disciplinary issues and even a lack of opportunity to use the bathroom.

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Focusing just on the classroom, top stressors were mandated curriculum, large class sizes and standardized testing.

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Many teachers claimed to be the victims of violence at school.


A total 18% of all respondents said they had been threatened with physical violence – though the percentage jumped to 27% when looking solely at special education teachers.


A total of 9% of all respondents claimed to have been physically assaulted at school. Again the percentage jumped to 18% of all special education teachers.


But it’s not just physical assault.


A total of 30% claim to have been bullied by administrators (58%), co-workers (38%), students (34%) and student’s parents (30%).

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This is the situation where policymakers want to throw firearms.


Most gun violence doesn’t involve a shooter doing harm to others. The great majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted.


Even without adding guns to the mix, several high profile teachers and administrators already have committed suicide.


In October of 2010, for example, a California elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. took his own life after the Los Angeles Times published a report labeling him a “less effective teacher.” Despite the fact that students and parents praised Ruelas, who taught in one of poorest schools in his district and who also was born, raised and continued to live in area where his school was located, the Times targeted him among other so-called “less effective” teachers as part of a major propaganda campaign.


And this isn’t an isolated incident. In July of 2015, a New York City principal under investigation for altering Common Core test scores, killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car.


Adding guns to this situation will just mean more teachers taking their own lives with a bullet.


That may have been the intent of the Georgia teacher in yesterday’s shooting.


Local police said they didn’t think he was trying to injure anyone else. When he shot his gun out of the window, he appeared to be trying to get others to leave him alone.


Arming teachers is a terrible solution to school violence. It’s taking an already stifling room and turning up the heat.


We need sensible gun regulations to reduce the pressure, not increase it.


We need sensible school policies that treat teachers and students like human beings and not just cogs in the system.


But this requires us to break out of a dangerous pattern in how we deal with social problems.


When we see a problem, we generally just shrug and leave it up to public schools and teachers to solve.


Inadequate resources – leave it to teachers to buy school supplies out of pocket.


Inequitable funding – increase class size and leave it to teachers to somehow make up the difference.


We can’t do the same with gun violence. We can’t just toss teachers a gun and tell them to sort it out.


Teachers can’t solve all of society’s problems alone.


That’s going to take all of us.


And we’ll need more than disingenuous proposals like answering gun violence with more guns.


Teaching is Hard Enough Without the Threat of Imminent Death




I am so sick of coming to school and having an impromptu meeting to discuss why my students and I might die today.




Every time there’s a major school shooting somewhere in the nation it seems a copycat makes a threat in my own backyard, and we react.


The police tell us it’s not a credible threat so school stays open.


However, be vigilant.


Be aware that our students know about the threat and will be talking about it.


We’ll bring in bomb-sniffing dogs…


But try to maintain calm and order.


There will be a lock down drill in a few days…


But try to make the kids feel safe and secure.


An older student violently attacked a classmate last week after threatening to go on a spree…


But attempt to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning.


To which, I say: are you freaking kidding me?


I know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.




There are certain basic necessities anyone must have in order to become a fully actualized person.


After physiological necessities like food and water, safety is absolutely fundamental.


Without it, you can’t get people to focus much on anything else.


You can’t get children to pay attention to nouns and verbs, for instance, if they’re afraid they’re going to be shot and killed.


You can’t get them to care about writing a complete sentence, if they feel like they may have to duck and cover at any moment.


You can’t get them to bother with abstract reading comprehension if they’re afraid of imminent death!


Oh, and by the way, I’m not exactly at my best either!


My lesson plans aren’t going to win any awards when the best solution our legislators can come up with is giving me a loaded pistol to keep in my desk drawer!


Well, Yippee Ki Yay! I’m a teacher! Pew! Pew!


My 7th grade students are literally frightened that going to school on any given day may lead to the end of their lives.


Every couple of weeks on the news it’s another school shooting and another body count, while lawmakers do nothing to ensure it won’t happen again tomorrow.


Every few days, it’s a rumor about this or that troubled kid we all know snapping and throwing a gun in his backpack. Or it’s an anonymous threat scrawled on a wall or a social media page.


Today it was teaching classes where half the kids were missing because their parents held them out of school afraid a vague rumor of imminent violence was true.


And as I tried to assure those who did show up that everything was okay, law enforcement checked the lockers with K-9 police dogs looking for weapons or drugs.


What the heck are we coming to?


I work in a police state and my students are being asked to learn in a penitentiary.


And the teachers should get guns.


And the principals should get guns.


And the parents should get guns.


And the guns should get little tinier guns to protect themselves from even more guns!


This is madness.


We’re begging for a political solution but our political system is a shambles. Nothing puts that in starker contrast than the gun debate.


The overwhelming majority of Americans want sensible gun laws – an assault weapons ban, closing the gun show loophole, mental health screenings, etc.


If we lived in an authentic Democratic Republic, we’d have them. But we don’t, because we live in a plutocracy.


One industry has enough power and influence that the only solution our policymakers can safely suggest is one that increases that same industry’s bottom line.


It’s like Tony the Tiger suggesting the only cure for obesity is to eat more Frosted Flakes! They’re Ggggrrrreeeaaaattt!


A teacher’s job is hard enough without society crumbling all around us.


But that doesn’t mean the children aren’t learning.


They’re watching the world burn with wide eyes. They’re taking in every flame, every bullet hole, every cowardly senator, representative and chief executive.


They’re watching and taking names.



At the end of the year, policymakers will wag their fingers at the nation’s teachers about failing standardized test scores.


They’ll bemoan sinking academic standards, powerful labor unions and a lack of moral fiber as the cause of a generation of children who lost out on an education while cowering under bulletproof backpacks.


But this generation refuses to be lost.


Despite everything, they’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs back to sanity.


They are emotionally damaged by a country that no longer functions, but they know the truth.


They know who’s responsible. And they know what to do about it.


When they reject our society, we’ll know why.


Because the next generation will be nothing like us.


And on a day like today, that’s the most hopeful thought I can offer.

When Will It Happen Here?




It could happen at anytime in my classroom.


The thing we’ve all been dreading.


A hasty announcement of lock down. An unexpected fire alarm. The sounds of shouting, running feet and… gunshots.


The lights could go out. The door could burst in.


There’s really very little we could do.


My room has no windows. No closets. Nowhere to hide.


These are the thoughts going through my head as my students sit at their desks during homeroom this morning.


Jayden is taking off his hoodie before the principal catches him out of dress code.


Alaina is pestering me for a pass to the library.


Darnell is surreptitiously munching on a pixie stick stashed in his book bag.


It’s all so mundane, so subdued, so quiet.


A few kids are on the computers in the back, others at their desks reading books, writing papers, or listening to music on their iPads.


But there’s very little conversation.


The class of middle schoolers is restrained, thoughtful – which is unusual for children of 12 or 13.


I sit slumped at my desk – exhausted though I haven’t even taught my first class yet.


The news from last night still plays in my head.


Seventeen people killed by an expelled student at a high school in Parkland, Florida.


Or was it two killed in Kentucky?


How long was it since the last one?


And now here we are – back in the line of fire.


I can’t help but think about my daughter somewhere across town. She’s probably just entering her third grade classroom maybe munching on the remains of a candy heart from Valentine’s Day. Just like me and my students, she’s in the cross hairs.


But what can we do about it?


I can’t hold her out of school forever. I can’t quit my job and work from home. Even if I could, there’s absolutely nothing I can do for the twenty children quietly sitting at their desks in the room with me, abiding the rules of a society too broken to protect us.


After last night, it feels like things have changed somehow.


There have been 18 school shootings so far this year. And it’s only February. Most have resulted in zero injuries.


Of those where people were hurt, the person most in danger was the shooter. But I can’t stop thinking about those cases where a hunter came to school to kill children and teachers.


As an educator, I’ve been taught how to handle just about every situation.


If one of my children acts out, or doesn’t hand in her homework, or even throws up – I know what to do.


But none of my training has prepared me to out teach a semiautomatic weapon.


I can’t differentiate past a bullet.


There is no paperwork that will invalidate the gunpowder or slow the endless rounds through whatever they come into contact.


If someone comes to school with a gun and a will to kill, I will be little more than a target.


But don’t get me wrong.


This doesn’t mean society should gift me a handgun to keep in my desk next to the chalk.


I am not a law enforcement officer or an action hero. I’m a teacher.


You don’t want me returning fire at every mindless bureaucratic hitch in the schedule. You want me assigning essays and chapter readings. You don’t want me keeping a gun out of reach of curious youngsters always at my desk and in my personal space. You want me safeguarding student assignments and – heck – my cell phone that kids keep trying to snatch and look through my camera roll.


What we need is real gun control legislation.


We need an assault weapons ban.


We need to close the gun show loophole.


We need buyback programs to get the mountains of firearms off the streets and out of the arsenals of a handful of paranoid “survivalists”.


In short, we need lawmakers willing to make laws.


We need legislators who will represent the overwhelming majority of the public and take sensible action to protect the people of this country.


What we don’t need are the trolls who hijack every conversation arguing the semantics of the term “assault rifle” or “terrorist.”


We don’t need weak politicians cautioning against “politicizing” mass shootings because the violence is too fresh.


We don’t need anyone’s thoughts and prayers.


We need action.


And we need it yesterday.


Some people are calling on teachers to take action to force our lawmakers to finally do something.


They suggest a national teachers strike on May 1st – May Day – if Congress refuses to act.


That sounds like a good idea to me.


I’m game.


But we need more than that.


We need everyone who feels the same way to join in the fight.


Parents, children, grandparents, principals, police, firefighters, soldiers and nurses – the multitudinous faces of America must come together to fight this monstrosity as one.


I may sit in that classroom.


My students and my daughter may be in danger.


But America must be the shield.


America must rise up and protect our future.


WE must take charge.


Otherwise, it is not a case of can it happen here.


It is a case of when.


Wake Up, America! You Have a School Shooting Problem!



There have been 11 school shootings so far this year.


And January isn’t even over yet.


That makes about 50 for the academic year – roughly one a week.


Some involve no injuries. Some are suicide attempts. And some, like the latest in Kentucky, involve an active shooter hunting and killing children.


While gun violence is a problem throughout the country, it is especially virulent at educational institutions.


According to an FBI study that looked at incidents from 2000-2013, nearly one quarter of all U.S. shootings took place at schools. And they’re on the rise.


Yet this latest incident barely raised an eyebrow in the collective consciousness.


Hardly anyone even attempted to offer a solution.


The reason?


Since Sandy Hook, we’ve effectively given up.


In December of 2012 a gunman walked in to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six adults, and we did nothing.


We stood by after the murder of elementary kids and couldn’t get up the collective energy to do one damn thing to stop things like this from happening again.


No new regulations.


No assault weapons ban.


No gun buyback programs.




In fact, the only thing we did do was actually weaken gun laws to INCREASE the likelihood of more kindergarten kids dying by shot and shell.


In this country we have created a false dichotomy – it’s either children or guns — and we’ve chosen GUNS!


We’re told to buy bullet-proof backpacks, arm school teachers, and have gun wielding police patrol the buildings, but don’t do anything about the firearms, themselves.


America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world.


It’s no wonder, then, that our citizens are so much more likely to die at end of a barrel.


Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 1,500 mass shootings (including those done at locations other than schools).

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According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 1,518 mass shootings, with at least 1,715 people killed and 6,089 wounded as of October 2017.


The database defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people (not counting the shooter) were shot regardless of whether those wounds were fatal or not. And since some shootings go unreported, it’s likely only giving us the bare minimum.


But that’s just mass death and destruction.


The overwhelming majority of gun deaths are smaller scale – police brutality, domestic violence, suicides, accidents, etc. America’s total annual firearm deaths came to more than 33,000 in 2014.


This is patently absurd.


Other countries don’t have the same level of gun violence as we do, even per capita.


There are certain facts that we refuse to accept.


States with more guns have more gun deaths.


Countries with more guns likewise have more gun deaths.


Meanwhile, states with tighter gun regulations have fewer gun-related deaths.


Countries with more rigorous gun control likewise have fewer gun related deaths.

(Don’t believe me? See Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” and a 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews.)



Yet we’re told that gun control is useless because new laws will just be pieces of paper that criminals will ignore. However, by the same logic, why have any laws at all?


Congress should just pack it in, the courts should close up and the army should just all go home. Criminals will do what they please – there’s nothing we can do about it.



This kind of thinking is the triumph of business over sense.


The gun industry is making billions of dollars off this cycle of gun violence: mass shooting, fear of regulation, increase in sales. Repeat ad infinitum.


We may never be able to stop all gun violence, but we can take steps to make it more unlikely. We can at least make it more difficult for people to die by firearm.


And this doesn’t have to mean getting rid of all guns.



It just means sensible regulations.



According to the Pew Research Center, when you ask people about specific firearm regulations, the majority is in favor of most of them – both Republicans and Democrats.


We don’t want the mentally ill to be able to buy guns. We don’t want suspected terrorists to be able to purchase guns. We don’t want convicted criminals to be able to buy guns. We want mandatory background checks for private sales at gun shows.


Yet our lawmakers stand by helpless whenever these tragedies occur because they are at the mercy of their donors.


The gun industry owns too many lawmakers.


Our continued gun violence problem is a symptom of our flagging democracy.


In a Republic like ours, our representatives are supposed to enact our will in the halls of power. Yet they don’t actually represent us. They represent business and the wealthy.


Until we regain control of our government, we will always be at the mercy of the dollar and the gun.


Our children will remain merely the most innocent victims of our heartless and unfair politics.


Gun violence is not an everyday occurrence at our schools. In fact, children are actually safer there than anywhere else. But everything is relative. Going to class to learn you’re ABC’s shouldn’t bring with it even a moderate chance of fiery death!


But that’s 2018 America. We live in a culture of death.


You need no further proof of that than the weekly report of which school got struck by the lightning of gun violence. Which children were mowed down by the consequences of an out of control plutocracy today?


Bang. Bang. Democracy is dead.


Life or Death Professional Development


You know what’s funny about school shootings?

It’s the only time the public still universally loves teachers.

We don’t trust them with collective bargaining rights. We don’t think they deserve a decent salary. Heck! We don’t even trust their judgement to design their own teaching standards, lead their own classrooms or be evaluated by their own principals!

But when armed assailants show up at school, then we think teachers are just great.

When angry teens arrive rifles strapped to their trench-coated backs, carrying duffel bags full of ammunition – then teachers are heroes.

I guess you can’t standardize your way past a bullet.

My school district had an outstanding training today. Administration brought in current and retired FBI agents, local law enforcement and EMTs to practice active shooter drills with the teachers.

We spent the morning learning about common factors between various school shootings, what to look for to stop the violence before it even begins and what strategies we should consider if we’re ever in such a situation.

This may sound a bit vague but the trainers asked us specifically not to give away the details. They fear if too much of this becomes common knowledge, mass shooters will better be able to prepare for their killings. So in deference to law enforcement, I’m not going to get into any specifics that might help a shooter increase his body count.

The afternoon was taken up with various scenarios. We were split into groups and given roles to play as a law enforcement officer took on the role of a school shooter.

The officer had a gun filled with blanks. We were given the opportunity to hear what it sounds like to have a gun go off in our building at various distances. It certainly wasn’t what I expected but gave us an excellent point of reference in case the real thing ever happened.

Probably the most frightening scenarios were in our own classrooms. I was sent to the room where I teach with a group of teachers who would play the role of students. Then we practiced locking down.

When the announcement was made, I locked my door, had the “students” turn over the desks for cover and turned off the light. One of the “students” was an army veteran so he tied his leather belt to the doorknob making it harder to open.

We heard the shooter walking the halls, screaming at others, even knocking on our door and trying unsuccessfully to get inside.

However, in the very next room, he broke in causing real damage to the door. He made the teachers kneel on the ground and asked them if they had children, if they wanted to live before shooting them with blanks.

When it was over, their faces were bloodless and scared.

During another scenario, I was only able to save one student in my room before the shooter arrived. I looked right at the shooter before slamming my door shut. There was just no time to do more.

The two of us hid along the wall with the lights out. We even tried our army friend’s belt trick but it did no good. The shooter broke through the door breaking the belt. I had my chair raised above my head and brought it down gently on his gun arm as he entered the room.

He turned to me and said “that was a good idea,” before shooting me. In my defense, had this been real and not practice, I would have brought the chair down with much more force. But dead I remained until police swept the room and the scenario ended.

A friend of mine in another room said the shooter entered her classroom and asked, “Who’s the teacher!?” My friend rose from the floor and said it was her. He took her outside of the room at gun point, turned her around and told her to run. She said she tried to follow his directions but her legs barely obeyed her. She doesn’t remember if he shot her.

Others froze in the halls against lockers or on the floor becoming easy targets as the shooter approached.

At one point he yelled, “Where’s the principal!?” Another friend calmly gave him directions how to get to the office. “Just go out these doors, make a left…” But by then the principal had already run from the building. She admitted to feeling horrible after she was safe.

We did a few other scenarios where the shooter approached us in areas where there was much less cover and you had to decide immediately what to do, where to go. It became something of a mad dash. One of the teachers even fell and broke her nose. She was treated on the scene by EMTs and taken to the hospital.

All-in-all, it was a thoughtful and fascinating training. It’s unfortunate we need to take the time away from academic concerns, but it is necessary. Our trainers called it “fear inoculation.” They said it would help us be less frightened, more able to act if the real thing ever were to happen.

The irony is that our public schools ARE safe – safer even than our homes. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening than you do being involved in a mass shooting. But these things do happen and it’s best to be prepared.

It certainly brought home the experience for me. I know what I’d do. I’d protect my students with my last breath. I think most teachers would. It’s who we are.

We don’t get into teaching for the salary or tenure. We certainly don’t do it for the standardization, dwindling autonomy, and fading professional regard.

We do it for the children.

I was honored to have this article featured on Freshly Pressed.