“Now. Students. Go to your next class.”
Upon hearing those words, we teachers looked at each other, grinning at the awkwardness of the situation we suddenly found ourselves in: active shooter training. Some of us whispered and tried to figure out which classroom would be nearest whenever we heard the “gunshots.” Some of us milled around in the hall, pretending to gossip with our “middle school” friends. Others were clearly anxious about what was to unfold in the coming moments, biting their lips and peering down the hall to the law enforcement officers who would be the “shooters” in just a moment.
Then the gunshots. One pop, then a pause, then three more. I shoved and scrambled to the health classroom. I felt someone nudging against my back, pushing me quickly into the room. It was a kindergarten teacher who taught in our district’s other building. I didn’t know her well; that would change.
We entered the room and pulled the door shut, clanking it hard against its metal frame. We ensured the door was locked and then looked for something to shove against it. The trainer had told us to do this even if the door opened out into the hallway, which it did. We maneuvered a 3- by 6-foot table up against the door. We had also been told to barricade with anything we could get our hands on. So we grabbed two standard-issue chairs, navy blue plastic and steel, and stacked them on top of the table. We clumsily tied a length of rope, which had been supplied in the room, around the hinge mechanism at the top of the door. This would supposedly make it difficult for the intruder to pull open. I looked toward the window, knowing that it could be an option. My co-worker spied a large swath of ripped paper on the counter, ran to the vacant teacher’s desk for a piece of Scotch tape, and taped it to the door’s large window. In the rush, she missed an edge, and it drooped down in the upper right-hand corner. “Can he see in through that?” she asked aloud, but there was no time to retrieve more tape.
The officer beat his fists against the door of the room across the hall. “Let me in. I’m here to kill yooouu!” he screamed. He tugged at the door handle then kicked the door violently. “Open up!”
We dove under the table and cowered. The shooter’s footsteps approached. My partner and I both reached for the door handle and strained to pull hard. I closed my eyes tight and waited. He was here. He breathed heavily and banged on the door. We pulled harder. Then he yanked on the handle. “Gonna die!!!” he screamed. I stopped breathing, pressed my eyes closed, and buried my face in my co-worker’s shoulder, knowing it would soon be over, reminding myself it was only a drill.
The course was taught by a company that specializes in training people who work at schools, workplaces, churches, and malls with the knowledge and tools they need should they ever be faced with an active shooter. This company trains not only employees and staff, but also law enforcement officers and security guards. That morning in the school cafeteria, my teacher-friends and I had sat alongside many other men and women, in both uniforms and in civilian clothes. Some attendees were from local police departments, and some were from as far away as Oklahoma. Over the course of the morning, the officer had shown a Powerpoint presentation embedded with videos and charts to teach us about the history of school violence in the United States, common one- and multi-shooter scenarios that might arise, and approaches that are critical when the unthinkable happens. We listened. A few of us took notes. Many asked questions.
As the morning lecture wrapped up, an uncertainty arose in the back of my mind. How would I react in a real situation? Would I know what to do? Would I keep my head and act quickly to get my students to safety? It’s easy to talk about it. It’s also easy to watch actors demonstrate effective procedures on a Smartboard screen, but in the hallways of a crowded school, how would I perform? And that’s what made the afternoon session so valuable.
The threat of school violence is a reality for educators. Thankfully, school districts do provide training that allows educators to be prepared and cope with the anxiety or worry that may arise. Even though I think about school violence, I don’t dwell on it because the training and the drills we conduct during the school year have imbued me with self-confidence. Please know that it’s a wary sense of self-confidence, though. It was terrifying to hear those footsteps approaching the classroom door. However, confronting that terror and equipping myself with knowledge and experience in shooter scenarios enables me to continue doing the job for which I am trained and serving the students to whom I am dedicated.
The door to the health room held fast. My co-worker and I had secured it well enough. The “shooter” slammed his hand down hard on the handle, gave up, and stomped on down the hall to try the next door. We heard him yelling and tugging again. He finally ended the drill to speak in the calm, authoritative voice of a law enforcement officer.
“Good job, team. Good drill. Now. Let’s do it again.”