Aspiring Teachers Now Learning How To Respond To Active Shooters

Feb 26, 2018

It’s a simple plan: Run. Hide. Fight.

That's what the Department of Homeland Security advises people to do when there’s an active shooter. Police departments also use this method when training school employees, students, and increasingly, aspiring teachers.

But it's that last thing -- the fight part -- that's always worried Emily Cipriano.

"I never would think: 'Here's my bag of things I bring to class to take notes’,” Cipriano said. “‘How am I going to use this to defend myself?'"

Cipriano is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut's education school. She wants to teach high school English one day. She’s heard talk about arming teachers in the wake of the Florida shooting. But she’s not interested in carrying a gun. For her, she hopes playing defense will be enough to keep her and her students safe.

"I have to believe that, ya know, with blocking the door, with using books to shield ourselves, or with setting up my classroom in a way that we're able to protect ourselves that I wouldn't have to resort to bringing anything with me to school,” she said.

But gun advocates, like the NRA, argue that teachers should carry a gun. The president of Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, said there are teachers in Connecticut who want to carry a gun, but none would speak publicly about it. He also declined to be interviewed for this story.

Connecticut is one of 18 states where teachers can get permission to bring a firearm to class. But former teacher Rene Roselle said requiring teachers to carry a gun would cause many to leave the profession.

"If we got to the point where we’re arming teachers, then we would see people leave in a great amount,” said Roselle, who now trains teachers as part of UConn’s education school. She said guns should be the last thing being put into classrooms.

"If we're often not giving teachers the pencils and the papers that they need to be able to have a classroom,” she said, “I don't think we'll be putting guns in the hands of teachers."

Richard Schwab is an education professor at UConn who trains school leaders. He said teachers should be armed, but not with a weapon.

"I think what we arm teachers with is knowledge,” he said, adding that he’s against arming teachers, but they should be prepared for school shootings. 

"We could never prepare every teacher for every social ill,” Schwab said. “We really ask a lot of our teachers. Is this one more thing? Yes. Is it the breaking point for teachers and people who want to become teachers? I don't think it is."

However, teacher shortages have been a problem for almost a decade. Many have been leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has been declining every year since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

But Schwab said it's other factors -- like increased attention on tests and less classroom freedom -- that's driving teachers away. Possibly giving their lives for their students, isn't.

"This is part of life today,” he said. “Unfortunately we've had a number of experiences like this in our nation’s schools. But we all have to deal with this, and we all can't hide in our homes."

Emily Cipriano agreed. Having grown up in a post-Columbine world, she’s always been aware of school violence.

"There are so many different roles that teachers already play,” she said. “I understand that this now is a huge role -- you're essentially saying you're here to save a student's life. But I just think that's something we've always considered."

For Cipriano, school shootings are a small part of the ever-growing list of things that teachers are asked to handle.