Ian Pearce is a high school teacher in Arlington, Texas. Whenever a school shooting makes national headlines, he and his wife have a difficult conversation: If a gunman ever breaches one of Pearce’s classrooms, his wife has given him permission to lay down his life for his students.
“I see my students more than I see my wife,” Pearce said during a phone interview. “It’s my job to instruct and teach these students, but it is also my job to keep them safe, and I take that really seriously.”
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As details of Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, surfaced, Pearce began to re-evaluate how he could best protect his students. The faculty, staff, and students at that school had followed lockdown protocols for an active-shooter situation, and still 17 people died.
When Pearce, who teaches advanced placement psychology and coaches the junior varsity wrestling team at Sam Houston High School, started his career five years ago, he thought about lesson plans and making sure his students were passing their tests. Now, the idea that his students could die keeps him up at night.
“I’m not going to bring a weapon to school, so what kinds of things do I have in my classroom that I can use to defend myself?” Pearce said. “If there is an intruder in my school, what am I going to do to make sure that I go home safely, and my students go home safely?”
In the spirit of teachers sharing lesson plans, Pearce took to Twitter to call for defense tips and vent his frustration. Within hours, Pearce found that teachers from across the country were grappling with the same questions that he was.
So far, he’s received more than 40 comments from teachers and school officials.
Others tweeted about repurposing classroom materials for self-defense.
“When it comes to school shootings,” said Pearce, “you have to be prepared to die for your students, and it is a very sobering thought.”
Some teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas did just that. Among the dead were Aaron Feis and Scott Beigel. Feis was an assistant football coach who died of a gunshot sustained while shielding students from rifle fire. Beigel was shot and killed hiding students in his geography classroom.
“When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so we can stay safe, but he didn’t get the chance to,” Kelsey Friend, one of the high-schoolers protected by Beigel, told CNN. “I am alive today because of him.”
Besides this week’s Valentine’s Day massacre, there have been at least 13 other incidents in which a gun was fired on the grounds of an American elementary or secondary school this year. Of these, there have been five deaths and another 19 injuries, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“I’m saddened that this is what is has come to,” Pearce said, “that the thing that keeps your children safe from an intruder is a teacher with a chair leg or a bottle of wasp spray, and they may have a semi-automatic rifle.”