This Is What A School Lock Down Feels Like, Part One

As I sat huddled on the floor of my classroom on a sticky hot Friday afternoon, I couldn’t believe how quiet 34 12 and 13-year-olds could be. I knew it was broad daylight, but with my heavy curtains pulled and the lights off, I couldn’t see any of their faces. I imagined what they looked like; their hair would be slightly askew, their brows sweaty from playing basketball at lunch. The smiles and laughs of our afternoon class would be erased, replaced by fear in their eyes and an unwillingness to let anyone see them cry. My mind raced as I went through my mental checklist – had he made it back from the bathroom before I slammed and locked the door? Did J make it under the desk with his broken ankle and crutches? Where were my interns? In an instant, I transformed from a facilitator of learning to a commander of safety.

I listened in the quiet and then whispered, “You’re ok. We will be fine. You are safe.”

No one whispered back.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first lock down I’ve experienced in 25 years of teaching, but this one felt different. It was no drill, that was for sure. The principal’s voice over the intercom was clear and firm, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

Desperate for information, I weighed the risk of standing up to walk to my desk. I knew the news would come via email, but there was a crack of light where the curtains didn’t quite cover the window – a crack big enough for a shooter to aim and fire. And it was directly behind my desk.

Sirens punctured the silence. We could hear them stopping in front of the school. I could feel the fear in the stillness of my classroom.

My laptop glowed in the darkness, but I couldn’t hear the ping of a new email. I knew before long the questions would start. I wanted to have an answer. I wanted to have something to soothe their minds while they waited, curled up under the tables, packed together like kittens seeking warmth from their mother. The silence wasn’t going to last.

Crouching down, I crept to my desk, my eyes scanning my inbox. “Keep all kids inside. Keep doors and windows locked. Do not let anyone in or out. We’ve received a threat and will send more information soon.” Slightly reassuring; I had been hoping for something better-something that would make me feel like we would be ok.

I felt the blood drain through my body. A threat. 34 children. 3 interns. And my own son out there, somewhere. Three of his classmates were with me – I knew they’d been delivering invitations when the lock down happened. Had he made it back in time?

I grabbed my cell phone and slunk back to the floor space. The screen lit up with a text from Cameron, “Mom, what’s happening? There’re cops everywhere.”

He’s safe. Gratitude washed over my heart. “I don’t know, son. Where are you?”

“I’m in my classroom. Mom, is this real?”

“I don’t know. Stay safe. I love you.”

“Mrs. Wolfe….Mrs. Wolfe,” came a barely audible voice through the darkness. “Do our parents know? Do they know what’s going on?”

They’re 12 years old, I thought. They want their parents. They’re just children – my children, now – and I’m it. It’s up to me.

“Mrs. Wolfe, can I hold this?” I crept close to the voice and saw her dark eyes. She was holding a pink stuffed elephant. I’d forgotten that box was under the computer table.

“Of course, sweetie,” I whispered back. Now was the time to move. “Class, you are fine. You are safe. I will take care of you. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know the police are here to protect us. You must stay quiet. Your parents will know we’re in lock down. You are safe here in our room. I will let you know as soon as I find out anything.”

My stomach lurched as I navigated around the discarded backpacks back to my spot on the floor. Another email – no news. “Get comfortable,” I breathed into the dead air. “This could be awhile.”

to be continued…

 

school lockdown part 1 mamawolfe
photo credit: One Hundred and Thirty Five via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe at jenniferwolfe.net.

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  1. Jennifer I’m so SORRY.

    So sorry we live in a seemingly peaceful place that is still so torn up with violence. So sorry our teachers and children are placed in harms way over and over. That our schools have become targets on a regular basis.

    And yet we are leaps and bounds more safe than so many others in other places. Unbelievable.

    This is was so powerful. Made me cry actually, as I don’t have any answers. Only screaming questions.

    1. Thank you, Tiffiney. I’m frightened that our world is becoming used to this gun violence- and that our children are finding it as part of our American norm. And yes we are safer than many places- but what is that really saying when we are not a country “at war”-except maybe with ourselves?

  2. So true. On a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1983, I was in my first year of teaching in Vallejo. There was a bomb at our school. Without cell phones or emails, classes reported to the playground when the fire alarm went off. After about 30 minutes on the yard, we were transported by school bus to a park deemed to be a safe location. All I could do was gather my fifth graders and keep them safe. While scared to death myself.

    1. It really is terrifying. I’m afraid that it’s becoming so commonplace…and people really need to know how frightening it is for students- and teachers.

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