What Scares Me Most Is How Seriously My Students Take Lockdown Drills
Terrorism and gun violence are as much a part of their reality as Snapchat and Insta
In the fall of 2010, I was in my first year of teaching middle school science, and I hated lockdown drills.
I was eager and young, and I resented the six-minute interruption in my classes. Whenever the principal’s voice came over the intercom announcing that we were going into lockdown, I had to herd my 26 excitable students into the corner of the room, close the curtains, and lock the door.
As a new teacher, my classroom management skills were terrible. Maintaining order in my classes, while also teaching, was difficult enough. During the lockdown, I had to convince my students to remain still as they huddled together in the dark.
I pleaded with them to be quiet, bribing them with promises of gum or a Friday movie. As with many drills in those early years of my career, someone would fart or get the giggles or moo like a cow and the class would erupt in hushed laughter.
Finally, the principal announced that we were all clear, and I had to salvage the remaining few minutes of my class time, rushing through notes or activities so that my instructional time didn’t take a hit.
At the next staff meeting, teachers received updates about the drill, as well as reminders to keep our classes quiet. We were asked to follow protocol by slipping a green or red card out under the door to indicate whether or not everything was OK.
In December 2012, I was sitting at my desk in the classroom, keeping a watchful eye as my students completed quiet work. The teacher from the neighboring room came in the room suddenly, and told me to check the news headlines.
As I scrolled on my desktop through the limited details of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, one of my students came to my desk to ask for help. I closed the browser window and showed him what to do.
That night, I sat in my baby daughter’s bedroom and cried. She would never know what it was like to live in a world where kids could go to school in bright, colorful classrooms full of books and aquariums without ever thinking about getting shot and killed.
By 2016, I was teaching at a public high school. We had a lockdown drill during my planning period. I was alone in a teachers’ room, so I sat at my computer and continued to do my work. I was shocked to feel a sharp poke in between my shoulder blades.
“What, you think they won’t come for you in here?”
The cop conducting the drill rolled his eyes and moved on to check the next room. I made a mental note to do a better job making sure that doors were locked next time.
By 2018, the kids I was teaching had almost all been born after 9/11. Terrorism and gun violence are as much a part of their reality as Snapchat and Instagram. They don’t see tragedy or sorrow in this because it’s the only life they’ve ever known.
I used to hate them because they were hard and inconvenient. Now I hate them because they aren’t hard at all.
There’s no need to hush these kids during a lockdown drill. I don’t have to plead with them to be quiet or behave.
My students and I had a lengthy debate last year about whether it was safer to hide along the cinder block wall of my classroom or the sheetrock wall. The cinder block wall offers far more protection, but a shooter aiming a gun through the window would have a better angle to hit it. The sheetrock wall is thinner, so bullets could penetrate it easier, but it would be a harder angle to hit if someone was shooting through the classroom door or window.
I often build things, so my classroom has a lot of hammers, saws, and PVC pipes lying around. Students from other classes will try to sneak into my classroom before my locked door closes because they feel those materials offer them better protection.
It’s 2019 and I still hate lockdown drills, but my reasons have changed.
I used to hate them because they were hard and inconvenient. Now I hate them because they aren’t hard at all. My school can go into full lockdown in less than 20 seconds. There’s no more laughing or whispering. I don’t need to bribe these kids — by the time they hit high school, they’ve already had a decade of practice making themselves temporarily invisible.
When we are in lockdown with the blinds closed, lights off, and doors locked, there isn’t a sound in my classroom. Students pile together in a unified heap of young people who think it’s normal to practice hiding from shooters in their public school classrooms.
There are no cliques or bullies during a lockdown drill. There is only quiet as we all strain to hear noises from the outside. It’s a relief and a shock to hear the sharp footsteps of the police officers who come through to pound on the door and shout.
“Please be locked, please be locked, please be locked,” I think, knowing that I’ve double and triple checked.
The handle doesn’t turn, and even though the pounding is jarring, I’m grateful that it’s just a drill because I know that someday it might not be.
We get the “all clear” call and turn the lights back on. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or I’m just not the teacher that I used to be, but it’s hard to jump right back into the chemical reactions of photosynthesis.
We talk through a few scenarios and I am unable to tell them how likely or unlikely each one is. We talk about the “Run, Fight, Hide” motto that our district has adopted. They ask me what I would really do if there was an intruder. We try to laugh about the thought of me slamming a chemistry textbook into the face of a would-be shooter to protect the life of a student who drives me crazy, but it’s not really that funny, so the joke falls flat.
There was another school shooting on Thursday in Santa Clarita, California. A student showed me the headline on her phone and told me she thought we should be doing more lockdown drills to prepare for these types of incidents.
I wanted to hug her and shake her at the same time.
I wanted to tell her that schools didn’t use to need lockdown drills. I wanted to tell her that her kids will go to schools that don’t need lockdown drills. I wanted to tell her that lockdown drills don’t save lives — stopping guns from getting into schools saves lives.
Instead, I nodded in agreement and told her to get out her notebook. It was time to talk about more important things, like chemical reactions and photosynthesis.