Close the door. Lock it from the inside. Pull to open. Is it definitely locked? Shut off the lights. Close the blinds. Gather the students. Move them away from the doors and the windows. Sit on the floor. Make yourselves small. Make yourselves invisible. Be quiet. Tell the kids to be quiet. Keep phones away. Don’t illuminate the darkness. Be quiet. Don’t whisper. Don’t laugh. It’s not funny. None of this is funny.
It‘s my first week at the new school and it‘s an ordinary “Intruder” drill. Lock the door. Turn off the lights. Hide. I follow the rules, but I don’t have a key yet, so the door remains unlocked. While the students and I sit in the corner, the building disciplinarian scans the halls, pulls on door handles, and inspects the bathrooms. My door handle twists and he walks in. He raises his fingers and mimics a gun. He points at me and at my students. “Boom,” he hisses as he motions his hand. He pivots a few more times, “Boom. Boom. Boom. You’re all dead.”
“I don’t have a key. I’m new,” I whisper. He walks out without a word. I am empty, as if I hadn’t eaten for weeks. Nauseated. And, just like that, the drill is over and we are expected to jump right back into our lesson. Unaffected. Hamlet, I believe. Betrayal and murder.
But the lesson doesn’t go on. Not really. I’m shaken. I’m the one responsible for these kids. I must lock the door. I must shut the lights. I must have a key. That’s not an excuse. I must gather them and keep them quiet. I am the one keeping the bad guys away. I am responsible. So, I can’t mess up. And the lesson can’t just go on. I need to get a key.
A year later, Adam Lanza murders 20 elementary school kids and 6 staff members in Newtown, Connecticut. My seniors and I watch the news during class. Faculty is discouraged from discussing the shooting with the students. I discuss it anyway. It’s important. It’s necessary. They need to know. I am permanently broken after that shooting. I cry for a month straight. I cry every time I think about it.
I was a high-school student when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 people in Columbine High School.
In 2005, Jeffrey Weise killed 5 students, 1 teacher, and 1 security guard at Red Lake Senior High School.
In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and a professor in Virginia Tech.
A year later, Steven Kazmierczak killed 5 in Northern Illinois University.
In 2014, Jaylen Fryberg killed 4 students in his high school’s cafeteria.
In 2015, Christopher Harper-Mercer killed 8 students and 1 teacher in Umpqua Community College
Last week, I had to tape a black screen over my classroom door window. Just in case. In case there’s a Lockdown. In case I have to act. This is the world our children go to school in. This is the world our teachers work in.
I scan my students. Who would it be? Usually the quiet kid, the withdrawn kid, the bullied kid. That’s the archetype, isn’t it? I give him more attention. I talk to him, I attempt to make him feel less alone, less ostracized. I’m somehow ensuring my own survival.
I tell my students about my kids. I tell them about my life. You must individualize yourself. Humanize yourself so they see you as a person, not as an object. Tell them stories. Show them you are a human. I am a mother of two. A partner. A daughter. A sister. A friend. I am your teacher. I am here for you. Do not kill me. Do not shoot me, please. I make notes of any disturbing behavior. And, then I ask myself: Would I be a hero or a coward?
And, I already know the answer.
Last year a student made a joke about a school shooting. He didn’t understand the severity of his joke. He didn’t understand why he had to see a counselor, why I took it so seriously. “It was just a joke, why are you so bent?”
The Intruder drills, the Active Shooter drills, the Shelter-in-Place drills, the Lockdown drills were created by us for our children. They were created by our lack of knowledge and by our stymied action. They were created by our bought-and-sold politicians, who auctioned off our children’s lives to the highest bidder. They were created at the expense of our children. A reactive solution. A non-solution, solution. So, we practice these drills. But, they don’t save our children. We practice these drills and our children know, they know that somewhere near a real danger lurks. And, they must hide from it, they must be quiet, and they must shelter-in-place.