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.”
I’m a Florida Teacher in the Era of School Shootings. What Happens in My Classroom During a Lockdown Drill Should Horrify Americans.
“'Remember,' I tell the children, looking them in the eyes in the darkened classroom. 'Remember to keep the scissors open. They’ll stab better that way.'"
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.
Hey Congress, I keep a broken chair leg near my desk just in case an intruder makes it through my door. We don't need your thoughts and prayers, we need you to do your job and fix this problem. Any other educators have strategies they use? #TeacherDefense
— Ian (@Ianaggie) February 15, 2018
So far, he’s received more than 40 comments from teachers and school officials.
Oh yeah, and my theater practice swords. Pipe wrapped in duct tape. pic.twitter.com/KZKVqEwP2B
— Your Obedient Servant, B.A. (@BAWrites) February 15, 2018
Others tweeted about repurposing classroom materials for self-defense.
Our CTE police science instructor recommended the fire extinguisher for this purpose. Also barricading the door w furniture, having kids put on their backpacks backwards (over the chest) and throwing everything not tied down if door is breached.
— Anne (@annemdelgado) February 15, 2018
“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.”
I keep a hammer in a drawer to brake the window for an escape route to the football field. #teacherdefense
— Symphony Bruce (@curlsinthelib) February 15, 2018
We have baseball bats by our doors. Our administration has also recommended we keep wasp spray (like Hot Shots) for all our "wasp problems" and then casually mentioned you could nail an intruder in the eyes from a distance if need be.
— Avi Lewis (@AvalynnLewis) February 15, 2018
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.”