Educator: We Must Protect Our Students from School Violence

School Emergency Exit

Imagine 27 ten-year-olds huddled together in a corner on the floor of
their classroom in almost complete darkness. Everyone’s ears are
working overtime straining to hear any hint of an intruder presence on
the other side of the door. Movement is restricted to darting eyes
attempting to discern from formless darkness any sudden motion, a
pathway of potential violence, the echo of a possible retreat.

This is what students experience during lockdown drills in my sixth
grade classroom. The first lockdown drill of each year is announced in
advance, and we talk about what actions to take for safety. Students crowd
into the corner of the classroom least likely to put them in the direct
line of gunfire, assuming we manage to get the door locked in time, and
the door actually holds. Getting 27 ten-year-olds to sit in such close
of proximity to each other and be totally silent requires my being
explicit about behavior expectations, and equally clear that not
meeting expectations could cost lives. Learners quickly understand
that the best defense that they have against someone who wishes to do
them harm is to be as invisible as possible.

Unlike fire or earthquake drills where the absence of fire, smoke, and
quaking makes it obvious they are practicing a drill, lockdown drills
leave participants uncertain. A perpetrator could be holding hostages
and threatening violence so there would not be gunfire yet. Perhaps the
attacker is walking through the building choosing the classroom where they
will begin shooting. These possibilities churn student and staff thoughts. Lights go out, blinds come down, and we wait in silent darkness.

Administrator release is a new rule; just in case a perpetrator is
holding the office staff hostage and someone announces a false all
clear signal under duress. It takes an administrator a long time to
reach every classroom. One might think that waiting for an extended
amount of time under these conditions would eventually invite poking,
jabbing, giggling or other normal 10-year old behavior. Maybe five
years ago, but with each new horrific incident of school shootings that
occurs in America there is proportionally less need to enlighten
children about invisibility being their only current line of defense.

What I am afraid of is closer to reality, if our lockdown was not a drill
and gunfire rang out on the other side of our classroom door, I’m not afraid the children would be giggling or whispering. More likely, the whimpers and wailing of
desperately frightened children who tried but failed to be invisible
would alert an attacker of our presence. Is the chance of a slim cloak
of invisibility truly all we are willing give our children as their
only hope against school violence? Adults of America must come up with better solutions to protect children from people who inexplicably choose innocent school students as targets for their hostility. Citizens must inform their state and federal
representatives that this will not stand. If we want nationwide change,
each of us must take action.


Dorothy Schroeder teaches sixth grade at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, Washington.