I’m a Teacher Who Went Through Firearm Training

And it was an absurd disaster.

Photo illustration: A hand gesturing like a gun is superimposed on a stock image of a classroom.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Thinkstock.

I teach high school literature at a private school in the South. In the months after Sandy Hook, in response to conversations over school safety, the higher-ups at my school decided they wanted to consider arming teachers. They invested in The Draco Group—an agency that, according to its website, specialized in “security consultation, assessment, and guidance.” The rumor was that they were ex-Israeli special forces. And let me tell you firsthand: The whole experiment was more absurd than I can even say.

The Draco Group reps cut an imposing figure, wandering our quiet campus in suits and sunglasses. Ariel Siegelman, the head of the organization, pitched a yearlong, once-a-month training cycle to educate teachers on response techniques for critical situations. In the past, what we called “in-service meetings” served as teacher assemblies where we could discuss pedagogical techniques, trade gossip, and fortify ourselves with pastry buffets, but suddenly they were modified to include disarmament training and krav maga. With each demonstration, the importance of “tactical instinct” was emphasized with gruesome clips of (simulated) active shooter situations starring the Draco Representatives themselves. With low production values that rivaled our school’s CPR videos, Ariel would walk us through various life-threatening scenarios, all while large white letters flashed on the bottom of the screen: In a CRITICAL situation, many people FORGET, when LIFE is on the line, train HARD, train REAL.

After each video, teachers were asked to partner up and practice wrestling wooden pistols from each other’s grip. Our guidance counselor immediately dropped the “firearm,” citing our college adviser’s sweaty palms. The history department chair and a five-time “teacher of the year” was thrown by a maintenance man who had once fronted a Prince cover band. Due to the limited supply of wooden Glocks, some of us were forced to simulate guns with our hands, firing with thumb and forefinger. A cacophony of half-hearted “Bang! Bang!”s peppered the auditorium. Finally, our AP humanities chair noted that “this shit was dumb” and said she was “too old and educated” to play guns. She then proceeded to holster her invisible piece and head for the bagels.

Based upon evaluations from the first training session, a crack team of faculty was selected to proceed with “Level 2.” They included a middle-school English teacher, a twentysomething accountant and administrator, the student activities director, and a sweater-vested math teacher with 35 years of classroom experience. Together they would comprise the Orange Hats—the first-ever school rapid response team tasked with neutralizing possible threats, so named for the orange beanies they’d wear to identify themselves as the “good guys with guns,” looking they could have been plucked straight from The Life Aquatic. The rest of us were up for possible promotion after more training, but until then our responsibilities were to consist of basic medical response and managing lockdown procedures.

Our cohort was put through a variety of intensive lessons. Airsoft weapon simulations resulted in immediate casualties. Our maintenance man was cut from the team after an unfortunate incident cost him his (simulated) foot. “He shot himself,” another teacher said. “He never even got a chance to get the gun out of the holster.” Ariel forced the math teacher onto his own (chalk) knife, leaving a dusty gash down the middle of his vest.

In the end, three Orange Hats were cleared for concealed carry on campus, provided they register and purchase their own weapons. In the weeks that followed, one of them, the middle-school English teacher, would frequently step into my classroom and whisper, “Hey man, notice anything different?” and then slyly offer up one foot, smiling as he indicated he was wearing an ankle holster. A new math teacher who hadn’t been through this training was so enraptured by the stories about it that she said she “couldn’t wait until they gave her a gun,” too. The Parents Guild was also impressed. They sent emails vocalizing support for more security training, including “larger tactical tools,” while touting the skills of our rapid response team.

But as the semester came to a close, problems arose. Ariel’s team came with a considerable price tag, and budget cuts threatened the necessity of an armed presence on campus. To further complicate matters, one of the Orange Hats was let go, leading to an unforeseen dilemma that raised the question “how do you fire someone with a gun?” (The answer was: very carefully.) In the end, the process to arm and train teachers at school turned to be too costly and assumed far too much: namely, that that lifelong educators would be able to transition into a versatile oppositional force for a heavily armed assailant. The rapid response team was disbanded and, barring security staff, all weapons on campus were banned.