What happened in Connecticut on Friday was horrific.

So to reflect that it could have been worse is not to seek comfort, because what happened already feels like the worst we can imagine.  There’s nothing consoling, at this stage, about thinking that twice as many people could have been killed, given the weapons involved and the apparent determination of the boy who wielded them.

And yet.

I remember the year when the Snork Maiden was in kindergarten.  I was teaching at a SLAC in Pennsylvania.  There are only three elementary schools in the town, but the school district serves children in a very large rural area.  Where I live now, it’s so population-dense that if a child spends an hour on a school bus, it’s because traffic is terrible; there, it might be because the child lives 20 miles away from his or her elementary school.  What I’m saying is that it is a pretty lightly populated place, for three elementary schools to serve such a large area.

And the school the Snork Maiden attended is like elementary schools mostly were when we were young–you walk up to the building, you walk through the front door.  You’re supposed to stop in the office, but there are no security guards.  Most of the staff recognize most of the parents.

I remember the Snork Maiden coming home and describing the special safety drill they’d had that day: The teacher turned off all the lights and pulled down the shades. Their job was to disappear!  They hid in the room so that Mrs. — (the principal) couldn’t see anyone if she looked in the glass panel of the door.  The kindergarten class was very quiet and still, and they successfully fooled Mrs. —.

As she described it, I realized that what they were doing was preparing, not in case of fire, hurricane, or earthquake, but in case a dangerous person came to threaten the safety of the school.  As a parent, I found it sobering.  Of all the things I’ve found to worry about, and they are legion, I’m not sure I had lit upon that particular one before.  Not that I’d never heard of a school shooting, but that I hadn’t realized the possibility was as real as that of a fire or some other natural disaster.

Now, of course, I am familiar with the phrase lockdown drill.  We had one at SA on Tuesday, actually.  Unless you get the message that your area is in immediate danger, you’re supposed to open your classroom door and sweep any nearby students inside.  Lock the door–this is done with an electronic key card.  Lights off, blinds down, and students out of sight of the small window in the door.

Any kind of drill always reminds you that you can’t rehearse an emergency.  In a real emergency situation, nothing goes as smoothly as in a drill.  Someone has gone to the bathroom–did they get swept into a different classroom?  Are they hiding in the bathroom?  Should we go look for them?  (No.)  You can’t rehearse an emergency, but you can practice the things that, if possible, you should do.  You can think about what you would do if.  Right now I’m thinking what if someone got hold of a key card and was entering rooms?  Ten people on one side of the door should be able to hold it closed against one intruder–but that would put some students in view of the window in the door.  Could someone shoot through that window?  Through the door?

SA drills, even lockdown ones, end with all the classes assembling, by homeroom, in our emergency assembly area (the sports field).  There’s always an interlude during which you’re waiting, with your homeroom, while any missing people are identified and located.  I often look at my homeroom of sophomores, as they become progressively more squirmy and silly, and think: In an emergency, would I risk my own life to save one of them?  Or more than one of them?

What if I thought the Snork Maiden was in danger elsewhere on campus?  Could I stay with the students from my class, trusting that other people would watch over the Snork Maiden to the best of their ability?

My students are older, but they’re still children, and they still deserve the protection of adults.  It’s at times like these that we reflect that our jobs are not just the books we teach and the papers we grade day by day, but the relationship we have entered into with our students.

We may never know with certainty every detail of what happened on Friday, but it sure sounds like the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School, faced with the unthinkable, acted as each of us would hope to act if someone tried to hurt our students.  As I read the still-unfolding reports, and shake my head in sorrow, that’s what I’m holding on to.


2 responses to this post.

  1. D. and I talked a bit this afternoon about whether I would have the courage and clear-headedness to act as bravely and self-sacrificially as the Sandy Hook teachers. She thought I would; I’m less certain. We do a lockdown drill every year, and every time I worry about how hard it is to keep the students out of the sightlines from the small windows in my two doors. I’m sure that teachers around the country are having similar conversations and anxieties and self-examinations.


  2. Posted by meansomething on December 17, 2012 at 3:49 am

    I think we’d do our best to keep our students safe.
    In case of emergency, could you cover your windows?
    Mark Oppenheimer wrote a piece that essentially seemed to be saying schools shouldn’t normalize this kind of event by doing lockdown drills, but frankly, this is a good kind of drill to do. A wild animal, or a swarm of bees, are distinct possibilities where we are–or a domestic dispute, or a drug raid, or, or, or…


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