Last week, my students and I clustered in the corner of my classroom hiding from a hypothetical gunman in a lockdown drill. They whispered to each other, but when I shushed them, they quieted. We could hear the silence of the whole school. We knew it was only a drill, but we still felt a touch of the fear that the students of Columbine must have felt.
The footage from the Columbine library is now, like all things shocking, on the internet. It shows students in the library cowering under tables and the boy collapsed in a chair from a gunshot wound while the shooters laughed. I watched it after Carl Miller entered an Amish schoolhouse and murdered 5 little girls shortly after Duane Morrison entered Platte Canyon High School and molested female students at gunpoint. Sometimes at my high school, I pause to think about those incidents. How, on an ordinary school day, while students are doing geometry proofs, painting self portraits, or writing essays about how parents are too strict, a gunman entered the school and forever changed the mission of the school from one of teaching students to be lifelong learners to one of keeping the bad guys out and counseling students so the trauma won’t be too severe.
Sometimes I am afraid of going to work. Usually, it’s just a passing thought. I think of a student or a man holding a gun aimed at me and my students. They tell me I am entrusted with the care of my students. What will I do if we are faced with a shooter? What tools do I have to deal with this situation? How will the principal (who is supposed to initiate the lockdown) know if there is a shooter in my hallway? President Bush declared on Tuesday, “Teachers should never fear for their safety.” Somehow, this doesn’t reassure me. We don’t have armed Secret Service men; we have one cop assigned to our school. Of course we’re afraid. But we are teachers. We chose to teach because we want to make a difference in our students’ lives. So, we go on teaching, hoping that we will make enough of a difference.
Sitting on the floor with my students that Friday afternoon made me feel the helplessness of facing an angry human being who is intent on hurting, even killing, people. Will lockdown drills really make a difference? Will it really make a difference if we sit in the corner out of view of the door window? Is this the solution to school shootings? I heard teachers joke about hiding guns in their book bags. They joke because of this helplessness. None of us became teachers to divert gunmen or to protect students from them.
We all know that security cameras, locked doors, and lockdown drills will not prevent a shooter from getting into our school. We know that a student who wants to cause damage will know the ways to get into his own school. A man who studies the school operation will find a way to get in if he wants to do so. Even though we know these facts, when we hear the principal declare, “PHS is now in lockdown,” we lock the door, close the shades and gather in the far corner.
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