It’s a sad new reality of the world of education: lock downs. After tragic shootings ripped away a sense of security in schools, teachers and their students now routinely practice procedures for evacuations (bomb threats) and lock downs (intruders). Teachers in North Carolina watch a fictional but unnerving film of a gun-toting intruder and learn the protocols for keeping all kids safe in the event of such a calamity.
As a resource teacher, I fervently hoped the lock down drills occurred when I was sick or visiting another country. I was amazed at the number of drills which coincided with my largest and neediest groups. I wondered if they used my schedule as a litmus test: If that group can survive a lock down drill, we will all be fine.
It came as no surprise when a drill was announced in the midst of a seven member small group. In order to be out of sight, the kiddos had to be squeezed into my walk-in closet. I’ve mentioned this closet before. It had a row of filing cabinets and ceiling-high metal shelving bolted to each wall. Every inch was packed with teaching supplies, which also managed to take up most of the floor space. Once you “climbed” into the closet, there was virtually no room to turn around. Since I knew a lock down drill was imminent, I had already shoved stuff aside so there was more floor space. But seven kids and me? Yikes.
Not only was the closet ill-fitted for all of us, my kids were even less suited to be squished on top of one another. It was a lively combination of first graders with autism, behavior disorders, and learning disabilities. Everyone had social weaknesses and attention problems. Now imagine this scenario: I lock the classroom door, turn off the classroom lights, and shepherd this motley crew into that closet and turn off that light. It felt like being locked in a tiny cave.
For a few moments, the kids were actually silent, which is a requirement of the drill. Don’t let anyone know you are hiding in the closet, right? But it wasn’t long before voices were hissing, “Get off me!” and “He poked me!” I reminded them to be silent and listened hopefully for a jiggling of the classroom door, which meant the police or administrator were ensuring that everyone was safely locked away.
Only a couple of students knew what a lock down drill actually represented. Like those precocious kids who know Santa Claus is imaginary, these two were intent upon delivering the others from any misconceptions about this drill. “We’re going to be shot!” one of them announced. The other affirmed that statement, which sent Martin, my lowest functioning kid, into overdrive.
As Martin started to babble and wail, I decided that we needed some light. I had positioned a flashlight in the closet for such an emergency. I was able to shift kids around more effectively, but the light also created an eerie sense of being at the bottom of a deep pit filled with odd shapes and shadows. More kids started to panic. I grabbed a book from a stack which I had also positioned for such dire straits. “I’m going to read a story VERY QUIETLY,” I said. “And we should be out of here soon.”
I began reading. Martin immediately interrupted me. “We need Batman,” he declared. The rest of the group laughed and I gave them a frantic signal to be quiet. Although Martin was personally offended by his classmates’ reaction, he offered an alternative: “Spider-Man can save us! He will zap the bad guys with his web and we’ll be safe.” No one laughed this time as they all considered this solution. Martin continued to describe the amazing ways in which his superhero could keep us safe. By now, the others were nodding their agreement. I just hoped no one could hear him talking.
I watched the group discuss the pros and cons of webs, handcuffs, and laser swords. I also kept listening for some sound of movement outside the classroom, but all was quiet. A five-minute drill lasted over 20 minutes due to some kind of glitch. By the time the principal’s voice sounded an “all clear” over the intercom, my group was calm and unanimous: Spider-Man had kept us safe. Whew.