Like many schools across the country these past couple of weeks, ours practiced emergency procedures for barricade. We practiced shelter in place. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the terminology, a shelter in place is emergency protocol for a severe weather or chemical-related threat, while a lockdown barricades against an active shooter and sometimes a bomb threat.
The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has been unshakeable for many of us as parents, teachers, and administrators. It has farther divided our country as we attempt to process and provide solutions for what seems to have grown to be an epidemic of, what could be at times preventable, mass shooting deaths.
I am certainly not stating that I have the solution. I wish I did. I wish someone did, because people are dying and kids are scared.
Our drill was scheduled on the heels of a threat to our own campus security, and while I won’t go into the details, suffice it to say the Parkland tragedy has resonated deeply with our staff members. Administration emailed staff to inform us of possible times for the drill and the protocol to ensue.
My Art room has two large windows and a glass push door that leads outside. I have a band of three large windows that line the hallway. The door that leads into the room from the hallway has a narrow window. I set about covering the windows to the hallway with paper and measured a small paper to cover my door window, hanging it with masking tape by the entryway. I pulled my blinds closed. My push door was covered. My co teachers did an excellent job of prepping our class for the drill. (We learned that the drill would be during my Art class with our autistic support students after lunch). I discussed with my co teachers how we would proceed with class during the drill. I was ready, but that was of course with hours of advance notice…
My students went through the drill flawlessly, and I credit my coworkers for preparing them so well. However, you could sense their tension and our concern. I have done lockdown and shelter in place drills with students before, and during this drill you could feel the solemnity in the air. A lockdown drill means lights out and hide (essentially) and during a shelter in place, students can continue to work. As we worked through the drill we talked quietly. Students wanted to know what would happen during a lockdown. We discussed what a lockdown would look like in the Art room. I told them specifically what we would do and where we would go in the room and why. I told them that I would protect them by any means necessary. I told them that I would keep them safe.
I told my students those things, because that is what any teacher would tell their students. That is what any teacher would do.
I teach two courses to graduate and undergraduate students in the Education and Design department at the University of the Arts, and during a class students were presenting activities to inspire critical thinking in the classroom. For one activity, we selected words from a bag and were instructed to draw the word on a paper we were given. The paper had a line or shape that we were to include in this drawing. We had just minutes to complete the drawing. When finished, we held up our drawings so the rest of the class could guess our prompt. One drawing had a series of stick figures running with arms stretched upwards. There were stick figure bodies with x’s for eyes piled on the ground. Guns were pointed at the stick figures and dashes streamed from the little guns. “War zone,” “hell,” and “war” were our guesses, but we were wrong. The student drew the word “school.”
This horrific scene has been replayed in the media more than most of us can count and that little drawing my UArts student made holds steadfast on my mind. I can only hope that this gruesome stick figure rendering is as close as I ever come to such a tragedy.
So why did my school choose to practice a drill that barricaded against weather and not shooters? Perhaps as to not interfere with instructional time, or maybe to scaffold learning protective barricade drills for our special populations of students. Or maybe, our administrators knew that we are scared and we are angry and we are raw. Perhaps, they wanted to literally keep us out of the dark.
I do believe in the second amendment. For years I maintained that so long as our government has guns, we should too. However, it’s time to be realistic, folks. That argument doesn’t really hold so well. We don’t have the right to bear what the government bears and never will. It’s time to be honest, an AR15 is not a “sporting” rifle, it is a people killer; and some of us still maintain that guns like these are perfectly ok to modify and that high-capacity magazines are a necessity. Really? Ok, sport, and am I now to be told that arming me with a gun will protect my students?
If you are reading this post, then I probably don’t need to list all of the things you could better #armmewith. Chances are, you already know the answer. It’s time to take a good, hard look at our legislature, our data, our funding. We are educators, not guns for hire. We care about our students. When we say, “We love our students,” we really mean it. So, please, help us keep them safe.
A teacher asked me yesterday if the paper over my hallway windows was for a cool new project. I sadly, explained that no, I just hadn’t taken it down from the drill the day before. I may leave it there, just in case. Perhaps I’ll replace the paper with fabric. Maybe my students can help print it. They’d like that…
Thank you, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, for seeing the need for and being agents of change.