Thursday, February 2, 2017

Active Shooter

So today we had early dismissal so that we could spend the afternoon running active shooter drills.

Loads of local law enforcement and other agencies participated in the drill. We had fifty-ish hand picked students to play the part of student victims. We had several previous PDs to go over how to handle ourselves. And we had two live "bad guys" with blank-firing guns to make it all nice and realistic.

We ran four drills. Because my room is far off in one wing of the building, I missed most of the excitement. I did not even hear the gunfire or the screams, and would not have known what was happening had the office not provided announcements (as part of the drill) like "Shots fired in the science wing." That was for three of the drills.

We were not of course told what simulations would be run. I don't know if it would have helped. Probably not. But Scenario #3 turned out to be a lunch shift. My lunch shift.

The shooters prepped the students and put them at ease. Selected some to stand against the wall and be shot dead, a couple of others to be wounded. Administrators, observers, local press stood along the walls to watch.

My usual post is on the wall with the entrance doors. The shooter fired first outside, in the hall. The shots were loud-- we knew they were coming and the students still shrieked in surprise and alarm. The shooter entered and began. My colleagues at the other end yelled for the students to go toward them, to get out. I had to walk the length of the cafeteria to get to an exit, the shooter to my right, executing the four pre-selected victims. Students dove under tables, huddled against the wall. I waved them up, toward the exit. We go out, went around the building to the safe zone.

I don't know if I saw all the students. I don't know if I got them all out. I'm pretty sure I didn't, and even with preparation and the fact that it wasn't real, the choice between shooing them out and lagging back to make sure they were all up and moving while the gun was still shooting- BAM BAM BAM BAM-- was a little bit beyond my processing powers in that moment.

I won't lie. I was shaken. I'm still shaken. We debriefed at the end of the day and the law enforcement folks said we did well. Maybe that's true. All I know is that tonight instead of thinking through how to cover the reading in my classes tomorrow, I'm replaying and wondering how many pretend students I got pretend killed today. Maybe I would do better if the real thing happened, having been through this training. But right now, having this business take up space in my head is, well, troubling.

Is this part of the job now? I suppose it is. Maybe it is. This is certainly not the first occasion to think about it. It's been over a decade since a shooter went to a prom less than an hour away from here. But damn-- all the things you do to get better at the work, at your craft, and then this on top of all that. And now it's not just did I get that concept across, did I reach that student, did I get that planning done, but also, did I get any students killed today. I absolutely cannot imagine how teachers go through the real thing ever deal. I want to find every one of them and give them a huge hug.

I'm springy. I'm resilient and stubborn. I write what bothers me out of my system. I'll be fine tomorrow. But I'm not fine tonight.


  1. Your writing, as always, is so poignant and so very very painful.
    As an elementary school, we haven't gone as far as your school's drill, but we have had many more lock downs and evacuation drills in the last 3 years than we had in the previous 24 years I've been working in my district.
    Living fairly close to Sandy Hook, and working side by side with a teacher whose nephew was one of the victims in Newtown, it's impossible to not think about the new threats we face as educators every day.
    What a world.
    I wish you peace and a clear mind as you start your day tomorrow.
    And thank you for processing your world through writing - Your readers are the grateful beneficiaries.

  2. I find the deliberate infliction of trauma upon teachers and other staff in a school deeply troubling. If an actual event happened, would you follow the drill or would some type of PTSD trigger? I'm all for practicing--forget the pretend victims and blanks--run through the procedure until it is routine. But this B*(SDFit? Do we set a fire in the school to have a fire drill? People who schedule this type of exercise have lost their minds!!

  3. I find myself wondering: does this kind of exercise do any good, or are the effects more like that of the 1950s duck and cover drills, which also addressed a real threat, but not in a way that would ultimately have done any good. These drills seem better-thought-out (swift evacuation/sheltering is a good thing to promise, whether in response to fires or tornadoes or other threats), but they also sound potentially traumatic, and the last thing we need right now is anything that increases a sense/culture of fear. No easy answers on this one, at least as far as I can tell.

  4. We had a lockdown drill this week. It was unexpected. Of course I got my kids into their hiding places and I stood by the door ready to do what I could to knock whoever ended up getting into my room.
    One of my first graders whispered "am I going to die?" Two others whispered to each other "it's ok" and held each other. One of my students felt like throwing up.
    All of us were hyped up on adrenaline until we heard that it had been a drill. I couldn't get them to focus the rest of the morning because we were all shaken. I do try to calm them and be very calm but firm about staying quiet and still.... But it is really scary.
    What's sad is that a 6 year old is wondering if he is going to die.
    I told him "not on my watch."

  5. I'm with Gregory and Cassandra. I'm chilled and traumatized just from reading about it.