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…