Thursday, August 16, 2007


This has been the first week of school. Besides the weather being beastly hot and my feet taking an awful beating, I have had a fairly successful school opening.

Last week was a different matter. My days were taken up with a variety of meetings: content area, SPED, school policy, literacy training, and most frighteningly, meetings with the police that are permanently stationed in our school. These are officers with tenure on the police force that have been trained to handle incidents in an urban high school setting.

When I left teaching 23 years ago, we had fairly ineffectual security guards in our school. They weren't allowed to carry weapons other than hand cuffs and mace and they didn't need them, actually. They usually spent their days swilling coffee and flirting with the senior girls. The officers of 2007 are fully armed with all the equipment necessary to handle gangsters, bank robbers, rioting teenagers, and most frighteningly, alien intruders. They carry themselves like the competent police officers they are.

The meeting with the police team involved instruction in what to do when an intruder came into our school intent on mass murder. Since his (they are nearly always men) aim would be the highest body count the police were intent on teaching us strategies to evade being shot dead.

Let me repeat that. The highest body count. Shot dead.

My job, once I had processed the necessary information and applied it to my own classroom, was to meet with my advisory students and discuss our strategies when an intruder would go on a shooting spree in our hallway. Not if an intruder would go berserk -- but WHEN an intruder decides to shot us dead.

The strategies are fairly simple. First move away from the shooter. Make sure you move away silently. Do not scream. Do not panic. Do not rattle doors, windows, desks. Do not alert the intruder you are escaping.

My classroom is at the very end of the third floor hallway and we have only one entrance. When the intruder comes through the door the first strategy will not work for us. If we hear him shooting at the other end of the hallway we might be able to escape down the rear stairs before he approaches our area. Since the building is very big, we would probably be able to avoid being shot unless the intruder started in the middle or in our corner.

Then the strategy is simple. Barricade if you have time; if not, fight. Do not die laying on the ground cowering.

That's what I told 18 students in my advisory on the first day of school in 2007. Do not die laying on the floor in a passive position. If a gunman enters our classroom, we will fight him with everything at our disposal. I will lead the fight -- and thus be shot dead first. I actually uttered the words: push my body out of the way and fight for all your worth; do not die without bringing him down with you.

My God.

After I'd given them my speech, my students simply sat stunned, staring at me. We had no more conversation until finally, one student asked me why our school would be a target. I had to explain that everywhere is a target now. On Sunday a man entered a Methodist Church 20 miles from us and killed five people. No where is safe any more. It is better to have a plan in mind than simply die in frightened panic.

The students again subsided into silence.

What a God-awful start to a brand, spanking shiny new school year! We planned how we might die, not what we could learn so we would be prepared for life. We talked about our death. Something in our world has gone hideously wrong.

1 comment:

snugpug said...

You know, if you'd taken up a job in law enforcement or in the defence forces, then you'd be trained in -- and expect -- armed confrontation. You might even think you could die on the job. But a teacher?