Why More Teachers Than You Think Will Arm Themselves

Here are some recent headlines:

Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill That Would Allow School Staff to Carry Guns
Michigan House to Explore Arming Teachers
Mississippi Vote Raises Question: Should Mid-South Teachers Be Armed?
Bill To Arm Tennessee Legislators Passes First Hurdle
Armed Teachers: Illinois District Wants to Be 1st To Give Teachers Guns

The pressure to do something is going to continue to grow if school shootings keep occurring, and there’s absolutely no reason to think they won’t. The solutions, if there are any, are difficult and politically divisive. The easiest thing for federal officials to do is kick the can and dump it on the states, and the easiest thing for state legislators to do is drop it in the laps of schools. So they’ll pass laws that allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons, they’ll require some training, they’ll refuse to pay for most of it, and then they’ll sit back and wait to blame schools and teachers the next time a shooting happens in their schools.

And teachers will play right into their hands because it’s what we always do. A lot more teachers than you think are going to end up carrying guns. They’ll do so for three reasons.


Fear is a strong motivator. It makes us do things we never thought we would. And the fact that this fear is misplaced doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter when school districts spent millions on secure entrances, security cameras, door stop devices, reinforced glass, and other measures that won’t do a damn thing to stop a determined school shooter.

When something gets this much exposure, we start to believe it’s more likely than it is. Following a plane crash, we’re more nervous to fly. Watching Nancy Grace causes us to watch our kids like hawks. A hysterical Facebook post about an attempted abduction from a grocery store parking lot stokes fears of being trafficked for sex among women across the country. A terrorist attack has us seeing potentially explosive knapsacks on the backs of every young bearded male we encounter.

We’re scared to be the next victim, so we do what we think will protect us (even though it likely won’t). We remove our shoes. We submit to invasive searches. We don’t even care all that much when we learn that our government is spying on us. And we do it all because we tell ourselves silly things like, “If it saves even one child…” and “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

We’ve seen this before.
Teachers don’t want to be shot.
They don’t want their students shot.
If they think a gun might prevent those things, a lot of them will carry one, damn all reason and consideration of unintended consequences.


Why do you attend unpaid after-school events? Fear of being thought lazy or guilt over your colleagues’ attendance? Why do you join committees you’re not interested in? Why do you say yes when you want to say no? Good old-fashioned teacher guilt is an epidemic.

Let’s consider how this arming teachers scenario might play out:

1. Your state passes a law allowing you to carry a gun in school.
2. The local police department offers training (Although, with enough teachers, the demand will probably lead to for-profit enterprises being certified to take the load off the overworked cops and they’ll cobble together some lame training program like most of the inadequate training teachers are forced to endure).
3. Your school district comes up with a policy and finds the cheapest training program to send willing teachers to, permitting them, upon completion (and probably a stupid certificate to hang over their desk) to carry a gun.
4. You find out that a few other teachers have taken the training to carry. They tell you they feel safer now.

Now what thoughts are likely to go through teachers’ minds? I can tell you one: Anticipated guilt.

See if these thoughts seem likely:

It doesn’t seem right that Joyce is the only one armed. So all the responsibility falls on her if a shooter gets inside the school? What if she can’t get to the shooter? What if she’s absent that day? Someone else should be armed, too.

What if parents find out that I’m one of the teachers not carrying a gun? Will they feel their kids are less safe in my room than in other rooms? Will they talk about how I don’t care about protecting their kids on Facebook? Will they question my dedication? Will they think I’m a coward? Will my colleagues? Will my principal?

What if, God forbid, a shooting does happen and the shooter comes into my room and kills a student and the press finds out that I could have been armed but had chosen not to be? Will they blame me? Of course they’ll blame me! Will the parents of the dead child blame me? (Yes) Won’t I blame myself? (Uh-huh) How could I live with myself? (Good question)

What if principals are pressured by parents to put pressure on teachers to carry? After all, if a school with one armed teacher is safer than a school with none, wouldn’t a school where everybody is armed be the safest of all? What will I do if I’m made to feel like I have to carry a gun?

I suggest most teachers will do the same thing they’ve done every other time they were made to feel like they had to do something, whether it was attending a professional development session that had absolutely nothing to do with their job, or teaching in a manner they know from research is not best practice, or implementing a program with fidelity even though data show it’s not working, or buying something from their friend who sells Rodan + Fields even though they don’t want that crap.

And if you think those thoughts won’t happen, then you haven’t been paying attention. Remember these parents, who “recklessly” allowed their kids to play alone at the park, or this mom, who was called the “world’s worst mother” for allowing her nine-year-old to ride the subway unattended? Why do you think you rarely see kids playing outside anymore without adult supervision? Video games and other indoor entertainment play a role, sure. But so do parents who are terrified of the worst happening and then being blamed if it does. The fear and anticipated guilt we feel when we imagine the unimaginable makes overprotective fools of a lot of us. No teacher will want to risk being blamed for a child dying in her care. Many will carry a gun, if for no other reason than to say they did all they could.

Reliable Compliance

Teachers give in. Almost all of us regularly capitulate. We don’t fight. When we do, we get dragged out of board meetings and dinged on our evaluations. How many degradations and indignities have you already put up with in your teaching career? How much do you do not because it’s good for your students but because you’re told to it? Do you really think teachers are suddenly going to fight back?

There’s a reason the West Virginia teacher strike made national news: teachers strikes are rare. In spite of decades of declining respect, falling earning power, and national scapegoating, most of us have gone along to get along. We’ve agreed, even when we didn’t like it. We held out noses and persisted. We did what was “best for kids” even when it damaged our health, our relationships, and our profession. We’re nothing if not reliably compliant. What possible evidence exists that teachers will suddenly execute an about-face and take a principled stand on guns, especially when guilt and fear are also working against them doing so?

Ultimately, more teachers than you think are going to end up armed for the same reasons we’ve agreed to terrify six-year-olds with lockdown drills. We succumb to the seductive illusion of safety. We’ll arm ourselves because we’re scared and because the thing we fear the most is our own future guilt. We’ll submit because it’s what’s expected of us. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll continue to do.

A Letter to Principals Regarding Walkthroughs

Dear Principal,

A couple of days ago you did a round of walkthroughs. You popped into five different teachers’ rooms for about five minutes each. I know this because at lunch later that day, we teachers talked about it. We have a request.

Please ask us why.

We would prefer these walkthroughs not happen at all than continue as they have. Even though I’m sure you tell yourself that you’re doing them to stay informed and to be in a position to help should you notice any problems, they’re nonetheless evaluative. How could they not be? Most of us remember our undergrad experience where we visited actual teachers’ classrooms. While the purported purpose of such visits was to learn from a professional, we spent most of the discussion afterward picking apart the teacher’s decisions.  We judged. It’s what people do.

It’s not the judging we have a problem with. We expect to be evaluated. The real problem with walkthroughs is that they don’t happen often enough.

It’s human nature to focus on the negative. We get that. We also get that you’re going to find something to criticize. When I conference with my best writer I’m going to highlight some area where she can improve, even though she’s heads and shoulders above her classmates. That’s my job, after all, to help all students get better. Same as yours with respect to your teachers.  Constructive criticism isn’t the problem. We can live with that.

What’s harder to stomach are the assumptions you make. You have an impossible job, often made more impossible by your bosses. You’re pulled in a hundred directions and you just can’t get into classrooms as often as you’d like. We get that, too. But it matters.

Because the infrequency with which you visit our rooms leads to a lack of context. And that lack of context causes you to make assumptions, which are often wrong, but which may be reflected in our evaluations anyway.

During your five minutes, you noticed that Sarah had her head down while I was teaching and that I did nothing about it. You saw Patel go to the bathroom without asking, just as I got to the critical part of my lecture. Joseph sits by himself at the front of the room and that didn’t sit right with you.

So ask me why. Ask me why because you don’t know. 

You don’t know what happened five minutes, or five hours, or five days, or five weeks, or five months before you walked in my room.

You don’t know that Sarah complained all morning about not feeling well and that she only got three hours of sleep because of her new baby sister. You don’t know that the reason she’s not engaged is because her body won’t allow her to be and that the reason she has her head down is that five minutes before you walked in I told her to put her head down.

You don’t know that Patel’s mom emailed me at the start of the week to tell me that Dad’s about to come home from prison after three years and that Patel’s anxiety over the change has manifested as a nervous bladder. You don’t know that Patel and I have a deal to prevent a mortifying accident for which he’ll be remembered the rest of his life: don’t ask, just go.

You don’t know that I’ve tried everything with Joseph for the past five months, but the kid just can’t sit near anyone with bothering them all day. You also don’t know that his seating location is a sign of tremendous progress. Because Joseph finally acknowledged his problem and asked to sit by himself so he could focus better. He’s not separated from his classmates because I gave up on him or I’m trying to shame him. He sits there because he wants to sit there.

You don’t know these things because you lack context for what you’re observing. That’s not your fault. But it is your fault if you don’t ask me why.

Why didn’t you tell Sarah to sit up?

Why did Patel leave the room without asking?

Why does Joseph sit by himself?

It’s a simple word that invites teachers to provide you with the context you lack.

Because if you don’t ask why, many of your teachers won’t tell you. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to come off as whiners. They don’t want to be the difficult one because the difficult ones get let go when districts cinch their belts and principals vote teachers off the island.

By not asking your teachers why, you put them in a difficult position. They can keep their mouths shut and risk having your ill-informed observations affect their evaluations and your opinion of them moving forward, or they can try to explain. But whenever people initiate explanations for their choices they come across as defensive, which others perceive as tacit admissions of error.

So, principals, do your walkthroughs if you must. Do them more frequently if you can. Don’t tell us they’re not evaluative because they are. And please stop assuming you understand the choices we’re making in the five minutes you’re judging us.

Ask us to tell you why. 





The Teacher’s Guide to Changing Careers

At the end of Dan’s last article, “I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back,” he wrote:

When I made my departure official and announced it to the world, I was humbled by the response of kind words and expressions of sadness for losing what I had to offer the classroom. But I was also alarmed by the number of responses I received from teachers asking how I managed to do it. I received texts, emails, and phone calls from teachers all over the national network I had been a part of declaring that they wanted out, too…I began receiving messages from friends of friends and even a few strangers. I had somehow become the exodus guru. I still receive these messages with the most recent just last week from a woman I once met at a conference who found me on LinkedIn and wondered if I could give her friend some advice.

This article, the third and final part in this series, is Dan’s advice.

Dan Laird

Since I was employed by the same district where I completed my internship, I never really experienced the whole job search process. I earned my place, but I certainly was lucky to be interning in a school with an opening. I now found myself looking for a job with no experience looking for a job. Obviously, I knew the basics, but I was now swimming in unfamiliar waters, waters that had expanded thanks to the internet.

Step 1: Update the Ol’ Resumé

Since the last entry on my most recent résumé from 1999 was for being a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, I had some work to do. And since that résumé was stored on a 5 ¼” floppy disk, I found it best to simply start over rather than see if the Smithsonian offered computer time. Because I was keeping my options open, I realized that I would be tweaking my résumé and cover letter again and again to match the job for which I was applying. After all, I highly doubt that the folks hiring for the copywriting position I pursued were interested in my proficiency with Google Classroom. To handle the task of juggling multiple résumés, I paid for a monthly subscription to the résumé building site, MyPerfectRésumé. It allowed me to save multiple drafts and focus on the content without the hassle of the formatting. (Helpful hint: I also discovered that if you pay for a month or two then attempt to cancel, the site will offer you a full year for the price of one month.)

Every time I applied for a job, I made a folder on my computer for that application, résumé, and cover letter. In the modern tech age, it is easy to apply for jobs at a rapid-fire pace. Despite that, some companies will respond as if it is the only job you pursued, and, believe it or not, their initial correspondence may offer very little indication as to which job posting they are referring. If you are casting a wide net, it can be very easy to lose track of your applications and nothing is more of a turn off for potential employers than confusing one opening for another. Also, by keeping a file for each application, I could easily find the closest résumé version for adaptation that best fit the next job posting.

Step 2: Finally Learn About LinkedIn

Despite being the butt of jokes for years, LinkedIn proved to have a place in the job search world. It turns out that employers may want to do their homework on you and this gives them a social media source to learn more about your professional accomplishments without having to sort through New Year’s Eve photos, your angry comments about being a cursed Detroit Lions fan, or hilarious cat memes. (Sidenote: You might want to check the privacy settings on your Facebook account). Since I was determined to go all out on this venture, I  paid for the premium subscription during my job hunt which allowed me to see who was reviewing my profile. I was pleasantly surprised to find views from companies to which I was applying.

In addition, many job search sites allow you to attach your LinkedIn profile to applications. Some even convert your LinkedIn profile information into the application itself. Since the résumé needs to be short, sweet, and right to the point, the LinkedIn profile allows you to really draw attention to work you want to emphasize.

Step 3: Find Your Source for Jobs

Job search sites seem like a dime a dozen. It’s important that you do your homework and monitor your success rate so you know what works best for you. Check to see if the site allows you to apply on its page or if it redirects you to other sites. Remember that companies pay to post their jobs on these sites. If the site you picked isn’t taking the application directly, it probably isn’t being used by the company who posted the job, which means your application may be dead in the water and lost to the internet.

Most of my success came from Indeed.com. In fact, that is where I found my current job. Indeed provides a very quick application process. If you have your résumé and cover letter ready to go, you can send it with the click of a button. A nice way to tell if a company has invested its money with Indeed is to see if it has added on to the application process. Companies can use a default application or they can add their own questions to the process. If you see these extra questions, you know that the company has prioritized this hiring source in its budget. If you do see short response questions on an application, always save your responses in a separate document so you don’t lose them once you submit your application. If you apply for another similar position, you may find a similar question.

Step 4: Cast a Wide Net

One of the biggest misconceptions teachers have is that their qualifications lock them into a teaching role for life. It’s certainly what I thought. What else can you do with a history major and English minor? Curate a museum? Write the great American novel? Finding an open position with the former is about as likely as becoming a rock star and the latter isn’t exactly a financially sound decision for a 40-year-old with two children and a mortgage.

I learned to stop searching for jobs for which I thought I was qualified and instead to start searching for my qualifications. First, I searched for ALL jobs in my city and state. For years I had been telling my students that they may very well end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Here was my chance to see what had been invented since I joined the workforce. Of course, there were jobs that sounded great for which I was nowhere near qualified. Still, those are options if you have a long-term plan that involves going back to school. So if you want out and can bear it a few more years, target one of these jobs and start taking classes now. But there were also opportunities for people like me looking to make an immediate evacuation. From there, I started looking for more jobs like the ones I stumbled upon. It was a domino effect of discovery. As it turns out, the world needs teachers in every corner of the workforce and not just for teaching STEAM.

Step 5: Don’t Wait. Keep Applying.

Just because a position is posted, it doesn’t mean that anyone is in any hurry to fill that position. Nothing proves this point more than positions for the state. When you check your state government website for job postings, you will most likely find more postings than you have time to look through. After applying for a few state positions, I started to get the feeling that even the state didn’t want to look through all of them. Rarely did I ever hear back from one of these applications. A few times I was told a position was filled. Once I was told that the state changed its mind and eliminated the position. Most of the time, I heard nothing. The downside to fast and furious job application technology is that most companies now have to sort through applications from people who only applied because they had nothing to lose.

Step 6: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

It’s a very exciting feeling to get called for an interview. While the interview is a great chance for the employer to get to know you, remember that it is also a good opportunity to learn more about the job for which you applied, sometimes without even asking a single question.

Not all job postings are specific. They may give you enough information to pique your interest, and hold back information that may cause you to look elsewhere. In addition, some job sites allow you to leave your résumé posted on a general “bulletin board” for any employer to see. This may lead to calls for interviews you didn’t expect, especially from insurance companies. Because I was keeping my options open, I attended some of these. A few of these interviews were located in bare offices that looked like they had been rented for the day. One interviewer mistakenly thought, ¨How would you like to live in Indiana?” was an enticing sales pitch. And one scheduled interview turned out to be a group interview with a dozen other candidates. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when asked what we were all looking for from this position, one applicant responded, “I want time to do my karate.” No offense to the karate kid, but I felt like I had a bit more to offer and was surprised we were up for the same position. It was clear that I was not invited there for my extensive résumé. Lower level employees were clearly mass-hired, disposable commodities.

Don’t be embarrassed about getting tricked by these “opportunities.” This process took me almost a year to get the hang of. As long as you’re not sacrificing something more important, you have nothing to lose by going to these interviews. Use the opportunity to brush up on your interview skills, learn to anticipate some typical questions, and, at the very least, give yourself an interesting story to tell. You never know when something might surprise you. In fact, before I took my current job, I was in the process of accepting a position with a financial company that happened to specialize in teacher 403b retirement funds. It was an unanticipated natural fit and the company was excited to have an actual former teacher on the team. I would probably be working there if my current job hadn’t made an offer right before I was to take my exams.

So, to recap:

  • You have value outside of the classroom.
  • Your qualifications do not lock you into a teaching job for life.
  • Learn about expectations for résumés outside of education. They’re different. Then update your résumé. I recommend subscribing to a résumé building website.
  • Set up or update your Linkedin account. Learn about best practices that will help attract interest from employers.
  • Investigate different job search sites and determine which works best for you.
  • Search for all jobs in your geographical area. You’ll learn about jobs you didn’t know existed. The discovery process will help you figure out which jobs fit your qualifications.
  • Don’t wait to hear back because many times you won’t. Just keep applying.
  • Keep your options open. Attend interviews. You’ll become more comfortable with them, become better prepared to answer common questions, and learn what companies are looking for.
  • Be patient but persistent. Keep looking, applying, and interviewing.
  • Forgive yourself. I made lots of mistakes, but this was a new experience. Recognize that it’s going to take you a while to get the hang of it.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading the series! Dan and I both appreciate your interest and we hope this has helped those of you thinking of making a change. For those who plan on persisting in the classroom for the next five or ten or fifteen years, I have a book called Leave School At School that will help you cut back on hours without sacrificing your impact with kids. In fact, because you’ll be more focused, better-rested, and less stressed, you’ll probably be a better teacher.

Previous articles in this series:

Part 1: Why I Quit Teaching After 17 Successful Years

Part 2: I Quit Teaching and Won’t Go Back

If you have questions for Dan, feel free to email him at [email protected]

You can also follow him on Twitter: @dandanlaird