Ask your kid what it feels like to do a lockdown drill at school. There’s a good chance you, the parent, didn’t experience this practice when you were in school.
Fire drill? Check.
Tornado drill? Check.
Maybe even a duck and cover drill.
But there is a high likelihood you don’t know what a lockdown drill feels like. There is a good chance, because of your age, you don’t know what it feels like to run through an intruder drill while you’re at school trying to learn.
Let me tell you.
Teachers sometimes know they’re coming, but mostly teachers do not.
Students never know this drill is coming.
A school administrator or a police officer will select a classroom or an adult to walk up to and say something along the lines of “there’s an intruder in the building; he is wearing a green shirt, black pants, and has a gun.” Immediately the adult must call the office and have the intruder alarm sounded while giving a physical description of the intruder.
The administrator or officer observes this to see how quickly the school can go from everyday-business to locked-and-quiet.
Every second counts and unless you were the adult who called in the lockdown alert, you don’t know if this is real or not.
THIS IS A LOCKDOWN goes over the PA system almost immediately.
The school and every single person in it goes into lockdown mode.
Every teacher goes to his or her classroom door which are all permanently locked now. Teachers open their doors to make sure there are no kids wandering the halls. If there are kids or classes in the hallway, they grab everyone they see as fast as they can, and then shut the door again.
Read again what I just typed: teachers learn there is an intruder (drill or not) in the building, and they are trained to immediately run to the hallway where an intruder might be in hopes of being shelter for students.
While teachers are clearing the hallways, students in classrooms are going to the corner of the room most hidden from the entry point. They’re crowding into corners, getting under tables, cramming as close to the wall as they can. Personal space doesn’t count in a lockdown drill.
I’ve taught two age groups in my time as a teacher: middle school kids and high school kids. They don’t move fast out of principle. There are two exceptions to this rule: when there’s a fight, kids will rush to check it out, and they will move with a quickness to their safe corner. Violence makes students move.
In our little corner, we get in tight, teacher and student just the same.
Students are quiet. Everyone is quiet.
They’re quiet, because they don’t know if this is a drill or not. Kids who cannot stop talking during lessons, quizzes, or standardized tests will instantly be quiet during an intruder drill.
Students are quiet, because this is becoming less of a drill. We’re raising kids bombarded with school-shooting violence and death; they know this is reality. They know this is serious. They know to be silent.
Then we wait in silence–holding our breath–just hoping the announcement will soon give us the all-clear so we can return to our learning and our desks and our books.
As we wait, students look at you, the teacher, waiting for a sign that says you know this is fake. They watch you to see if your shoulders will relax or if you’ll give them a reassuring smile so they can breath again.
But teachers don’t know either.
So we wait.
Administrators and police officers are running the halls right now as you sit crowded into a corner with your students; you can hear their boots hitting the floor. They are jiggling door handles to make sure they’re locked, checking to make sure classrooms are quiet.
We’re told locked doors and quiet kids will save us.
I don’t care how often you practice a lockdown drill, when someone grabs that door handle to shake it, when you hear people moving fast down the halls, you are scared.
You hope in the back of your mind this is just pretend. You hope in the back of your mind you’ll return to teaching in just a few minutes. You can feel your students hoping the same things. They’re not good at hiding their thoughts and you’re too good at noticing them.
Eventually a school administrator will come over the PA and give you the all-clear. You’ll stand up slowly, legs asleep from sitting. You’ll grab students’ arms and pull them to their feet. You’ll pat a few shaken kids on the back. You’ll be gentler with your instructions as they head to their seats, maybe you’ll spend a few minutes talking about the drill.
You give everyone a minute to breath.
Then you’re supposed to go back to teaching. Teachers will still be evaluated today. Students will still be required to take tests, ace quizzes, and concentrate on their homework.
At the end of the day, parents will welcome their kids home off the bus, never realizing the pretending their children did at school that day. The way they had to imagine they were going to die and what they would do to prevent it. Like it’s their job to prevent their own violent deaths as they sit in their desks learning their letters and math and a foreign language.
When I changed my major from journalism to education my sophomore year of college, I did not know this would be part of my job; that my love of reading and books and language and cranky teenagers would mean I was also agreeing to die for them, to die with them.
Have you ever put an anxiety-riddled child in a lockdown situation and demanded they be still? Have you ever had to sit next to an autistic child whose routine and ability to know what is next has just been taken away and then ask them to be quiet?
We don’t have enough trained staff in buildings to handle the current emotional needs of our students; how will we even begin to address the damage we’re doing with these high-stress situations we’re putting our students in? Are we allowing kids to process the drills we’re practicing with them? Are we notifying parents so they can check in with their kids when they get home? Are we talking about what support needs to happen at home so kids can talk about their fears and worries? Who is equipping parents with the right tools to handle a situation they didn’t encounter when they were younger?
It’s like a set of dominoes; we’ve thought out the first two or three moves, how things will fall and how we’ll react, but can we even see far enough down the course to the long-term issues we’re causing?
What a cruel, horrible world we live in.
“I don’t care how often you practice a lockdown drill, when someone grabs that door handle to shake it, when you hear people moving fast down the halls, you are scared.”
I am really good in traumatic situation, but even during this, even with windows to the outside knowing there are no cops outside the doors, knowing we are safe, that jiggling the door handle always got me. It’d make me second guess what I know to be true. Our culture will never be the same again. Sometimes I look up at the sky and say, “Oh is that you Jesus, splitting the clouds? Did I miss the trumpet?”
I think that every time I see the big, fake clouds. And pray it’s true.
My boys will bring up the lock down drills at dinner, they tell me what they’ve been instructed to do and how it makes them feel. My heart aches that teachers are asked to be human shields to protect my children. I am pissed that we live in a world where this is a regular part of my children’s day. I work at an agency where we have hidden panic buttons and are trained to deal with active shooters and angry clients. Monday my boss was in my office crying because her daughter was in a lock down at her college and texting her to find out what was going on. She was locked in the closet with her classmates and professor for a few hours before she was led, after being patted down and searched, by SWAT to another location to be patted down and searched again, then led, with their arms up in the air, in a single file, to a safe distance from the building. Thankfully all were safe and they’ve made an arrest. I used to take my children’s safety at school for granted. I don’t know what to make of any of it……
I’m so sorry that happened. It breaks my heart.
Maureen Nigro says
I work at a private school and we have lockdown drills on a regular basis. They are very scary. But we have also completed the A.L.I.C.E. training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) which I understand they are soon to roll out to schools nationwide. This training helped us feel more empowered and feel that there are other options in a horrendous situation. I hope they roll out this training to your schools soon in your area.
I’ll have to look into that–thanks, Maureen!
I recently changed the lockdown hiding place because I didn’t feel it was secure enough. (I have several small practice rooms I like better than a corner.) Kids were being their normal sassy selves and one said “why are we changing? Are we having one?” I said “no. We are changing because I have nightmares.” Silence. And then one student said “me too.” And I almost cried in front of all of them.
Thank you for writing this.
They joke because they’re kids, but it’s real for them too and that’s horrible to understand. Thanks for continuing to think and change to keep your kids safe. Hopefully we’ll make some changes so this doesn’t have to be another things teachers are responsible (and also blamed) for.