And yet I still startle when the announcement comes over the intercom.
I walk over to the classroom door and glance outside to see if there is anyone to grab. Then I quickly close it and lock it from the inside so why did I have to open the door and potentially let in an intruder? I’ve always wondered that.
I hastily pull down window shades as I put on my best “fun teacher voice” and tell my class we’re playing a game. The principal is looking for us so we’re going to play hide and seek. Everyone–even you–have to be quiet so no one can find us. Most of them don’t understand what’s going on, a combination of limited English proficiency and being a small child. But they follow me as I herd everyone into the bathroom.
I’m in a new building this year. In my old classroom we hid in the back of the room by the backpacks with a series of shelves blocking us from view. Now a bathroom in my room is the only place to hide, so off we go. We all fit, but I find myself looking them over and thinking about which ones are small enough I could lift onto my shoulders. Although if the worst happened and adrenaline was racing through my system, I would probably be able to lift any and all of them.
In my old classroom, I had books on shelves that I could grab and read in a whisper voice. Now my only resources are extra tissue boxes and disinfectant wipes, so I rely on my memory and start reciting the children’s book I have read far too many times–Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
A told B, and B told C, “I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.”
It’s hot and stuffy. And we’re in a bathroom of all places, one that small children use, although I’m the only one who seems aware of that fact.
“Whee!” said D, to E F G, “I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut tree!”
Chicka chicka boom boom, will there be enough room?
I recite the whole story at a whisper. It’s important we’re quiet at all times during drills like these. There are two problems with this. One is a lingering cough I have, the occupational hazard of working with small children. I try to quietly cough and they give me “the look,” like I’m potentially ruining the game. If only they knew.
“Dare double dare, you can’t catch me. I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut tree.”
Chicka chicka boom boom!
The second problem is that we’ve read this story so many times that they keep chiming in, which has me shushing them, admonishing them to whisper. These are the kids I’m normally encouraging to use a louder voice, kids that I would ordinarily be thrilled were responding to a familiar text.
But not this time. This time is a rehearsal for something I hope will never happen…
…yet something that is all too possible. It’s not just high schools anymore. Or colleges. Now it’s those and military bases and movie theaters.
And elementary schools.
We live in a world where I would literally take a bullet for one of my kids, and that’s not hyperbole. It’s a distinct possibility.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…
I look at the time on my phone and wonder how much longer this lockdown drill is going to last. The novelty of playing hide and seek has worn off. We’ve recited a story, we’ve played a game where we make silly faces, and we’ve whisper-sung songs we sing during our normal school day, complete with motions. It is just a drill, and part of me just wants to crack open the door and let some cooler air in. But I can’t do it. Today it’s a drill. Tomorrow it could be real, and we need to be ready.
I sound like a crazy person, prepping to go into battle with small people who still believe in fairy tales. We’re all crazy people.
The announcement comes over the intercom that the drill is over. My kids are so young they don’t understand what the principal is saying until I open the door and we all spill out of the bathroom. Everything is as we left it twenty-five minutes earlier, books and papers strewn everywhere, a school day in progress. We move around and try to get some wiggles out before going on with the rest of the day, as if the drill never happened.
Before Sandy Hook, a lockdown drill meant I locked the door and kept on teaching. After, it means I lock the door and we hide; you just never know.
In all of those lockdown drills, the kids never question what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. It’s just accepted as another thing we do at school, which is unbelievably sad.
Are they going to spend their childhoods hiding in their classrooms? How are they going to feel when they figure out what these hide and seek sessions really are? What is it like to have to hide in the one place you feel safe and protected so that someone with a gun doesn’t shoot you?
Why must I keep asking these questions?