Monday, September 1, 2014

"Ready" for School

Every year at school, we teachers and staff are trained in what to do in the event of a school shooting situation. We've been trained in this for as long as I can remember:  Close your classroom door, hide, and be quiet, hoping the shooter thinks your room is empty and keeps going. Administrators make ridiculously veiled announcements over the P.A. such as, "Mr. Locker is in the building," code for "A shooter is in the building." (Seriously; it's that silly.) I've never thought much beyond that, because of course that would never happen at our school. When we have drills, I just follow the procedure and reassure my nervous sixth graders that we would simply stay out of sight and that police would respond and rescue us, basically.

On Thursday at school, during one of our three teacher in-service (administrative) days, we were trained differently than usual. It started with a viewing of about seven minutes from surveillance video from the Columbine Massacre, including the killers' walking around shooting people point-blank, laughing in victims' faces, terrorizing innocents, and finally, committing suicide together, all while a 911 operator tried to make sense of what she was hearing over a cell phone. We were warned that it might be emotional.

It was horrific. Terrifying.  Heartwrenching.

I'm tearing up again, now, typing this; it was a horrible thing to see, and I'm not ashamed to say that tears streamed down my face as I viewed it.

At the end, our presenter noted (by the on-screen digital time on the video) that it took police more than six minutes to arrive at the scene. We were reminded that these days, our district is no less likely to face such an event and that because of its rural, small-town location, help would be even less likely to happen in a timely manner; we have only one police officer on duty at a time and one school liaison officer (who could be anywhere in our 140-square-mile district when the call (God forbid) came in).

That was the moment during which I kind of lost it; the reality of the potential situation was terrifying to me! I felt so vulnerable! We would be screwed in the event that a killer set out to do harm in our school!

Then they told us that the video was a reenactment;

a very, very realistic reenactment,

and I was angry. Was that really necessary?!

They wanted our attention, and they certainly had it. Our trainers explained that they've learned a lot over the years of school shootings (across the globe), and they apologized for not truly preparing us well in the past. They explained that a new training is designed to increase the likelihood of survival in the event of a school shooting today. We learned that teachers who do nothing but gather children in a corner are more likely to die. Teachers who sit and wait to be rescued decrease their chances of survival and that of their students. The Columbine-inspired school intruder reaction plans we've been using in the past would be weak responses to the reality of a school shooter. Among other things, we learned that instead of simply hunkering down, the first thing we need to do after closing our doors is barricade them. If we know where the shooter is, we now know how to pick up our classroom phones and announce that over the public address system in a very direct, specific way: "An adult with a gun is heading towards the commons via the 6th grade hallway!" If we hear this and know that we're in a remote location, we can help our students escape, instead of "hiding" in our rooms.

Before today, before being given a whole new perspective in an unorthodox, shocking manner, my students and I would have been more likely to be victims in the unlikely event of a shooting at our school. I now know how to take action in such a circumstance, to take my fate and that of my students into my own hands, instead of leaving it to a shooter or hoping to be saved like a damsel in distress. I am empowered, and I am in awe at the magnitude of responsibility I carry for my students.

I am a teacher, and while I may not be ready for anything, I'm ready to teach. I'm ready to serve. I'm ready to be prepared but also to open my heart and to focus on what's important, my students.

Bring on the new year.

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