Monday, November 25, 2013

This is only a drill.

After 23 years of teaching, I felt like I'd seen it all, but today, I experienced something brand new. Today we had a lockdown drill.

I've been through two actual lockdowns. We had one because somebody thought a student had a gun. Turns out he just had a bullet, and unless he threw it really, really, really fast, we were never in actual danger. Better safe than sorry, right? Another lockdown happened because of a bank robbery near our campus. Since the suspect was on the loose, police locked down our building just to make sure the bad guy didn't try to use our classrooms as his hide-out. Again, we were never in danger. The threat was outside, and our entrances and exits were secure. That lockdown happened during our lunch, and I was one of the lucky ones sequestered in the teachers' lounge with good conversation, not to mention plenty of vending machine junk food. We guiltily worried about our colleagues stuck with cafeteria duty, charged with keeping all those kids in that big room calm, but a few hours after it began, we were free to get back to work.

In spite of those riveting experiences, I'd never been through a lockdown drill. And even though we knew it was coming, and even though it was made perfectly clear that it was just a drill, it was still unnerving. 

When the loudspeaker announcement came, we were ready. We followed our procedures quickly, and our students (the ones in my classroom, at least) responded perfectly—just as I knew they would. After several minutes, we got the "all clear," and class resumed. But it took a while to shake that uneasiness, to let go of the thought I'm sure we all shared: What if this were real?

Columbine back in 1999 was my first real eye-opener, and I struggled to overcome my knee-jerk fear. Columbine was not just A high school; it was EVERY high school. I'm sure we weren't alone in thinking that could've happened to us. Just days after that tragedy, two of my students joked about the shooting, even saying how THEY would've acted if they had been in the shooters' place. I was really scared. When I started teaching, I knew I'd be nervous about greeting new classes, assumed I'd be anxious when dealing with certain behavior problems, but I never dreamed I'd be afraid to enter my own classroom. A couple of conversations with my administrators and a whole lot of prayer helped me find the courage to get on with the important business of teaching. But wow, it was tough for a while.

In the years since, with every school shooting, my colleagues and I have been through lots of "what ifs." Virginia Tech and then Newtown—oh, Newtown!—led to plenty of what-would-I-do scenarios. While I'm thankful for my school's clear lockdown plan, I know that there's only so much I or anyone could do. 

I guess a drill like today's should help me feel a little more confident in our preparedness, but really it just makes me sad. I'm sad to think that extra security measures didn't save those babies in Connecticut. I'm sad that lockdowns have to be part of our educational lexicon. But I'm determined to do whatever is necessary to protect my students, just in case next time, it's not a drill.

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