You know what’s funny about school shootings?
It’s the only time the public still universally loves teachers.
We don’t trust them with collective bargaining rights. We don’t think they deserve a decent salary. Heck! We don’t even trust their judgement to design their own teaching standards, lead their own classrooms or be evaluated by their own principals!
But when armed assailants show up at school, then we think teachers are just great.
When angry teens arrive rifles strapped to their trench-coated backs, carrying duffel bags full of ammunition – then teachers are heroes.
I guess you can’t standardize your way past a bullet.
My school district had an outstanding training today. Administration brought in current and retired FBI agents, local law enforcement and EMTs to practice active shooter drills with the teachers.
We spent the morning learning about common factors between various school shootings, what to look for to stop the violence before it even begins and what strategies we should consider if we’re ever in such a situation.
This may sound a bit vague but the trainers asked us specifically not to give away the details. They fear if too much of this becomes common knowledge, mass shooters will better be able to prepare for their killings. So in deference to law enforcement, I’m not going to get into any specifics that might help a shooter increase his body count.
The afternoon was taken up with various scenarios. We were split into groups and given roles to play as a law enforcement officer took on the role of a school shooter.
The officer had a gun filled with blanks. We were given the opportunity to hear what it sounds like to have a gun go off in our building at various distances. It certainly wasn’t what I expected but gave us an excellent point of reference in case the real thing ever happened.
Probably the most frightening scenarios were in our own classrooms. I was sent to the room where I teach with a group of teachers who would play the role of students. Then we practiced locking down.
When the announcement was made, I locked my door, had the “students” turn over the desks for cover and turned off the light. One of the “students” was an army veteran so he tied his leather belt to the doorknob making it harder to open.
We heard the shooter walking the halls, screaming at others, even knocking on our door and trying unsuccessfully to get inside.
However, in the very next room, he broke in causing real damage to the door. He made the teachers kneel on the ground and asked them if they had children, if they wanted to live before shooting them with blanks.
When it was over, their faces were bloodless and scared.
During another scenario, I was only able to save one student in my room before the shooter arrived. I looked right at the shooter before slamming my door shut. There was just no time to do more.
The two of us hid along the wall with the lights out. We even tried our army friend’s belt trick but it did no good. The shooter broke through the door breaking the belt. I had my chair raised above my head and brought it down gently on his gun arm as he entered the room.
He turned to me and said “that was a good idea,” before shooting me. In my defense, had this been real and not practice, I would have brought the chair down with much more force. But dead I remained until police swept the room and the scenario ended.
A friend of mine in another room said the shooter entered her classroom and asked, “Who’s the teacher!?” My friend rose from the floor and said it was her. He took her outside of the room at gun point, turned her around and told her to run. She said she tried to follow his directions but her legs barely obeyed her. She doesn’t remember if he shot her.
Others froze in the halls against lockers or on the floor becoming easy targets as the shooter approached.
At one point he yelled, “Where’s the principal!?” Another friend calmly gave him directions how to get to the office. “Just go out these doors, make a left…” But by then the principal had already run from the building. She admitted to feeling horrible after she was safe.
We did a few other scenarios where the shooter approached us in areas where there was much less cover and you had to decide immediately what to do, where to go. It became something of a mad dash. One of the teachers even fell and broke her nose. She was treated on the scene by EMTs and taken to the hospital.
All-in-all, it was a thoughtful and fascinating training. It’s unfortunate we need to take the time away from academic concerns, but it is necessary. Our trainers called it “fear inoculation.” They said it would help us be less frightened, more able to act if the real thing ever were to happen.
The irony is that our public schools ARE safe – safer even than our homes. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening than you do being involved in a mass shooting. But these things do happen and it’s best to be prepared.
It certainly brought home the experience for me. I know what I’d do. I’d protect my students with my last breath. I think most teachers would. It’s who we are.
We don’t get into teaching for the salary or tenure. We certainly don’t do it for the standardization, dwindling autonomy, and fading professional regard.
We do it for the children.
I was honored to have this article featured on Freshly Pressed.