05 September, 2013

Lockdown

Dear Readers,

 Please note that the views stated in this post are entirely my own.  They do not necessarily reflect the views of my colleagues, administrators, or board members of our school.




So here is what happened . . .

One day last winter we heard an announcement over the school PA system.  I had hoped and prayed I would never hear this announcement, but here it was.  Our school was officially on lockdown.  This was not a drill.  The other teachers and I did as we had practiced in our drills, and hustled our children into our "safe location." We waited anxiously for news.  We heard sirens, LOTS of sirens.  We continued to wait, keeping the children as quiet and calm as we could without frightening them.  Soon after we heard the sirens, we received a text from the head of the lower school.  She said someone in the front office had received a phone threat.  There was, the caller reported, someone with a gun in one of the school bathrooms.  The police were on site and were checking the bathrooms and every classroom, office, and room in the school.  We were to wait and continue to keep the children quiet until we had been given an "all clear" signal.  Our administrator texted us again just before the SWAT team entered our room so no one would be alarmed or surprised to see them.  Luckily the children's view of the officers was blocked and they did not see the men, heavily armed, enter the classroom.  About 40 minutes later, the police had checked every room in the school as well as the entire campus.  They cleared our building and we were allowed to return to the classroom.

A very kind police officer came to our classroom to debrief the children.  He told them someone had reported there might be a "bad guy" at our school and that's why the police had come.  "We're the good guys," he said.  "We will not let any bad guys hurt anyone.  He continued, "The person who told us that said something that was not true.  There was no bad guy.  We checked everywhere, and there was no one."  He finished by telling the children what a good job they had done by listening quietly and following the teachers' directions.  Shortly thereafter parents arrived, teary, overwhelmed, and terrified.  They picked up their slightly bewildered children and brought them home.

Here's what happened that we didn't know.  Teachers and students all over the building had prepared for the worst.  They barricaded classroom doors with tables, desks, and bookcases.  Some teachers grabbed knives from school kitchens and others armed themselves and high school students with metal table legs, metal frying pans, fire extinguishers, or whatever they could find.  Other teachers hid students under desks and in closets.  They stood at the doors, ready to fight back and protect their students.

Less than five minutes after the 911 call was made, there were over 50 squad cars at our school. (The officer who debriefed the teachers later told us every available officer in the city responded to our school's 911 call.  He said off-duty officers, game wardens, sheriffs, EMTs, and fire fighters raced to the school.)  Heavily armed officers sprinted into the building.  SWAT teams met our school principal and immediately began to search the building and school grounds.  Snipers were sent to the school roof.

The whole event, while taking place in under an hour, was life changing.  All the teachers in our school watched along with the world, horrified at the events that unfolded in Newtown, CT, in December.  We wept for the lives lost and prayed such a horrific thing would never happen again.  And yet here we were, a mere few months later, facing what we knew might be a similar situation.

My personal feelings about all these events are still even now, months after the events I have just recalled, quite mixed.  I waiver between feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, despair, and acceptance.  When we first heard the announcement, I didn't think.  I just acted, working with other teachers and getting the children to where we knew they would be most safe.  It was fully five or ten minutes before I stopped enough to remember that my own child was a student in the school.  She was way at the other end of the building, much too far for me to get to her, even if I wanted to do so.  Which I didn't.  I trusted that her teachers would protect her with their lives if need be, as I would do for my students.  Except that made me feel terrible, especially after the fact!  How could I not even think of her for those first few minutes?!  I am her mother and I would stand in front of a train for her, but I didn't even think of her at a time when she might have been in extreme danger. It is all well and good that I can act as a professional in almost all situations, but shouldn't I want to get to my child no matter what?  Shouldn't I be willing to do (or at least want to do) whatever it takes to get to my own child?  I am still struggling with these feelings of extreme guilt.  The logical part of me knows I did (and wanted to do) the right thing in the situation, but I am her mother and in my heart I feel like I failed her in the worst possible way.

The next day and for a few days following these events, a police officer met with teachers to discuss the events and specific teachers actions.  He said, "We can't tell you exactly what to do in a situation such as this.  You just have to assess and do what you think is right.  If there is shooter (and yes, he used that word because he said that is currently the reality of life in schools) at one end of the building and you can get your children out and safely away, do that.  If the shooter is outside the building, bring the children inside to their safe location."  They could not tell us definitively if we should close the classroom blinds or use some sort of system to alert police if children in the classroom were accounted for (as this would let someone know children were in fact in the classroom.)  I understand why they can't give us definite rules we should follow.  Many events in life don't have rules as to how people should act and react, but I sure wish there were some definite do and don'ts for situations such as this.

As the days following the lockdown progressed, teachers had other chances to speak with police officers.  One day after school a group of teachers and an officer were talking, and a colleague and friend of mine said to the officer, "I can tell you one thing.  We all wished we were packing."  I spoke up and said, "I didn't." My colleagues and the officer looked surprised.  I explained my feelings as respectfully and as best I could, and then I left.  I had to put some distance, at least for that afternoon, between myself and the strong emotions the lockdown and subsequent events brought out in me.  I have thought and analyzed my feelings so often since then.  They tear at my heart and make me question . . . well, everything.

New billboard showing numbers of children killed by guns, since 2010.
It reads 6248, a staggering and horrifying number.
I do not like guns.  Period.  They scare me.  It is as simple as that.  I wish we lived in a Utopia where they were not necessary, but of course I understand that is not and sadly, probably never will be, the way of the world.  Violence seems to be everywhere and each time I look at the newspaper or the news, I hear of more and more people killing and being killed.  I am incredibly grateful to law enforcement members and military personnel who are willing to use guns and other weapons to protect everyone, to protect me.  I am grateful to them for their willingness to, if necessary, give their lives for others.  And here's one of the hard things to admit, to you and to myself.  When I really stop and think about it, I am grateful they are willing to handle guns and deal with dangerous people because it means I don't have to.  If I had to do what military personnel and law enforcement officers do each day, I would fall apart.  I would not be able to handle it.  At all.  I would not be able to have the life that I do, care for my family, read to my children at night, connect with my husband, and nurture and challenge young children, if I had to get up each day knowing today might be the day I shoot someone or someone shoots me.  I also know some of the statistics of children who are accidentally killed with guns each year.  They are horrific.  When I was a child there was a billboard downtown which was updated each year, telling how many children had been killed by people with guns.  It made a great impact on me.  I cannot imagine teaching in a classroom I knew contained a firearm, even one that was locked in a safe.

That's what I told myself.  I couldn't carry a gun.  I work for peace each and every day in my classroom and in my life.  I want to carry that message with me everywhere I go and perhaps most of all in my classroom.

One of the police officers said they were looking into a new program which would train at least one teacher in every school, in the proper use of firearms.  My partner said she would be interested in joining a program like that.  She is an excellent teacher, a good friend, and someone whom I greatly respect.  So when she said she would be interested in hearing more, I found myself once again full of doubt and confusion.  I do not want to carry a gun or have one in the classroom.  I like to think (and I suppose you never really know what you would do until you are faced with the situation) I would be willing to give my life if necessary for my students, standing between them and a shooter.  But then I think if I am dead, who stands between them and the shooter then?  Is it the most selfish thing I could ever do - to not want to carry a gun to school if it could mean saved lives?  Should the possibility of perhaps saving lives outweigh my values and beliefs?  I would like to say no, but  . . .


When I chose to become a teacher, an early childhood teacher, the issue of guns or shooters at schools never entered my mind.  I chose to become a teacher because I love children.  I believe I can be a positive influence on them, nurturing them and challenging them to expand their ideas while creating environments in which they can explore.  Demands on teachers have been ever increasing since I started my career.   Some of these demands include:


  • Planning and offering stimulating and challenging lessons for every subject matter, each day, providing opportunities for children of differing levels and abilities.
  • Observing and documenting each child's learning, as often as possible 
  • Having knowledge about special needs of children, and being able to adapt lessons and plans with their needs in mind.  
  • Having knowledge, skills, and training regarding allergies (especially peanut allergies which have increased tenfold in the last decade.)
  • Having first aid and CPR training as well as knowledge of how to handle tornados, earthquakes, and fire emergencies.
  • Communicating and partnering with parents, answering emails, preparing newsletters, having conferences etc.

Doing all these things can be challenging, but I don't know one teacher at my school who doesn't do all of them willingly because they love their students and they are passionate about their profession.  They are willing to do whatever it takes.  I thought that list of teachers who would do whatever it took included me, but now . . .

If to the above list we must add:


  • Completing training in firearms and being prepared at any time to use a loaded weapon
I am not so sure.  


**Please note this is a heart wrenching issue for me and for everyone I know, parents, teachers, children who are old enough to understand what has been happening, law enforcement, politicians, everyone!  It  makes me sick that this is the kind of world in which we live, in which I am raising my children and educating my students to live.  I support gun control and a national gun registry.  I believe assault weapons belong only in the hands of law enforcement and military personnel.  If you are a hunter, I agree you have the right to own and use a gun, but please do it safely and when you are not using it, please keep it safely put away and out of the reach of children.  I do not want to carry a gun, ever.  I am grappling with whether that is a personal choice I and other teachers should be able to make - if it comes to that.  I wonder if I should give up teaching altogether.  Maybe I am a dinosaur and I do not belong in this brave new world.  I just don't know.


I have not disabled the comments section of this post.  I know school violence and guns are a hot issue, and one that many people are extremely concerned about.  Please understand I wrote this posting to share my thoughts and feelings and reach out to others.  Perhaps you feel the same confusion or perhaps you may not have understood why some teachers feel the way they do.  If you wish to comment, please do so in a respectful way.

Thank you.

Karen








2 comments:

  1. I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been, but I do understand why you wouldn't want to carry a gun at school or anywhere, for that matter. I think people have a fantasy that the situation will shape up like they do on TV and in the movies, but they don't. When Gabby Giffords was shot, a "Good Samaritan" with a gun almost shot the man who had actually disarmed the shooter (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/01/friendly_firearms.html). And as Senator Jeremy Hutchison found out, when everyone has a gun, it can be difficult to tell a shooter from a teacher. In a simulation with law enforcement, he shot a teacher who was exchanging fire with the bad guy (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/01/friendly_firearms.html).

    This is a great essay, Karen. It took a lot of courage to say that you'd not want a gun. I don't know that I would have had the same courage to speak up when I was teaching.
    --
    Jeff Miller

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  2. Beautifully written. I agree with you on guns in the classroom and in general. One thing I often think about is the TYPE of gun that these shooters choose. A weapon that can kill dozens in seconds is a brutal match for a teacher with any protective weapon that would be even marginally acceptable in a classroom setting. There is no way to out-arm the bad guy. As for your focus on the classroom instead of your own child, I suspect that was built-in crisis control...Like pulling your hand back from a hot stove. It's obviously not a reflection of who you are as a mom. Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you for your comments. They are always much appreciated. : )