22 Years Ago….
22 years ago when I began my career as a teacher, we didn’t have active shooter drills.
We had fire drills.
Or maybe we had to stay inside because there was a bear in the field. The students used to be terrified thinking about the bear outside.
The idea of a killer on the loose, didn’t exist.
We never heard those ominous words on the loudspeaker alerting us that we were in danger.
22 years ago, it never happened.
In the past several years, every practice we have I tell myself, it’s a drill….it’s just a drill. And then when it takes a bit longer than I think a drill should take, or I hear an odd sound in the hallway, I think, what if it’s not, just a drill? What if this is the real deal? I have 24 little lives depending on me. I look around my room and I know there is nowhere to go. There is no extra large closet to hide in. I look at my cabinets, knowing I can’t fit 24 children into them, and I know I can’t choose who goes in and who doesn’t…never would I choose.
There is no bathroom in the room with an additional locked door.
So, when we have a drill and I think it is a just a drill it never seems to fail…
The tempo of my heart speeds up and my breathing gets heavier. I look at my students faces. For most, it is out of their realm of understanding the potential danger. They are used to this practice. It is just that, a practice. Some look over at my face to see my reaction, just like I would do to the airline attendants when we hit turbulence. If the airline attendant smiles, I feel better. So, I smile. My students should feel better.
I share a smile that reassures them that all is ok. They are eight years old. I do my best to show I am not concerned, that I am not frightened and that I know we are all safe. Of course we are safe. But at the same time, I have to let them know it is a serious drill. I need them to take this seriously. It is a rehearsal… a rehearsal for the real event. A rehearsal for an event where I pray I would have the strength to continue to reassure them and give them a smile.
22 years ago, I didn’t have to silence 24 students until we got word it was all clear.
I never had to run around the classroom, close the windows, lock the door, shut it tightly, close the blinds, turn the lights off and make the room appear empty.
I never needed to have my students sit with their backs against the wall so they couldn’t be seen.
I never needed to shush them when they let out a sniffle or a sneeze.
I never needed to put my finger to my mouth, so they knew they needed to be silent.
I never felt frustrated when they giggled, for fear of being found.
I never needed to give my serious teacher look to the student whose leg accidently hit the file cabinet, making a metallic thud sound.
I never had to try to stop them from a sneeze because it would make a potentially dangerous sound.
I didn’t have to look in their little 8 year old eyes and tell them “we have to take this seriously”.
You have to be silent. Silent. We don’t want to be heard.
And then a cough. The dreaded cough. The cough that is clear to anyone outside the room, we are in here. We are in the dark, with our backs against the walls… we are here. Trying to hide, but now you heard us… you can hear us. You know we are here.
And if you want to come in this room, if this is the room where you choose to ignite, you will come in. And I know there is nothing I can do.
Windows and doors aren’t bulletproof.
I have nothing that can protect anyone. Absolutely nothing.
I fear for my students. The panic they would feel.
Their parents heart wrenching pain.
I worry about my own girls. The anguish they would endure.
How would they hear the news? Who would be the one to comfort them? Who would help them through it all? Did I say I love you today? I know they know I love them, but did I say it…today?
What if this drill is the real deal?
Seconds tick by…painfully slowly.
I can hear footsteps outside but all is eerily silent in an otherwise building filled with sounds of laughter, movement, chairs sliding on the floor, pencils dropping, keyboards clicking and student chatter. It is all silent.
The door handle jingles…someone is trying to come in. They say nothing, they just turn the knob. A few students gasp, fearing the worst. Most are unphased, for they are used to this part of the drill. It is someone on our side, checking the door is locked. We know this. We are safe. We hope. They are making sure I did my part to keep everyone safe.
The door must be locked. We aren’t safe if the door isn’t locked.
But I know the truth. A locked door would not stop anyone from entering. If the door was locked, they would find a way in.
And maybe for a moment, I would see the face that was there to hurt us. Just maybe I would have a second to look into the eyes of the one who was filled with rage and plead not to harm the children. Maybe, I would beg for their lives, beg for my life, beg for my girls that need me as a mother. Maybe, I would have a second to make a difference. Maybe, I would be able to do something that could change the premeditated outcomes of that day.
But more likely, there would be nothing I could do.
There probably wouldn’t be a second to do anything.
Once the door is open it comes down to the luck of your crouching location. There is nothing that could be done.
So MAYBE the only hope is to stop the shooter before the shooter enters the building. Make it much more difficult to enter the building. Have a guard at the door, metal detectors between the doors, bullet proof doors… something!
For all too many, these drills become a living nightmare. Something no child should ever have to experience. Children are dying because they are at school. School. The idea should be unimaginable. But instead it is a brutal reality.
I pray each time these drills we practice remain just that, a drill. I hope we one day won’t need to have these rehearsals anymore and these horrors cease to exist. Something has to change, now.
I long for the days that the loudspeaker calls for a lockdown because we have a bear outside.
I am confident I can keep my students safe from a bear if we hide behind a locked door.
I am not confident otherwise.