"Code Blue: This is not a drill!" This classroom teacher's unfortunate experience wit
The Parkland High School shooting has been on my mind. It was horrific. Honestly I couldn’t watch very much of the coverage. I’ve been too close to that type of event myself. You see, I’ve had to keep my students safe while 2 teenage boys ran through the high school shooting their guns at the high school where I was teaching math. It not only traumatized me, it changed me. I wanted to share my story.
*** Disclaimer: This is NOT a political blog. I won’t be taking any sides on guns and you won’t know my standing in our red and blue world. But, I think I can shed some light on what it is like to be in complete lockdown with 28 kids you love like your own. ***
I never asked for this. I have had extensive training in how to teach, the principles of learning, discipline and at least over 1000 hours of teacher workshops over my 30 year teaching career. But, I never expected this to happen to me and honestly, I didn’t feel prepared either.
I was teaching at a suburban high school in Oregon with about 2000 students. This was after the Columbine massacre and the one much closer to me in Springfield, Oregon at Thurston High School. I loved my kids as I always do. We go through a lot during a school year. My students need to get to know me and what to expect out of me. I have to learn about them too. Who is great at math? Who is going to need some tender loving care to get them through this school year in math? Every student is different. That’s the challenge of teaching and the reward too. Maybe parents don’t really get that teacher’s do love their kids. I’ve rarely met any teacher that doesn’t. We want them to succeed. We want them to work hard. We want them to be happy and healthy.
So when the call came over the intercom, “Code Blue!” That meant there is an active shooter in the building. I sprinted into action. Well, that’s not entirely true, because I did have a pause thinking maybe this was a drill.
But in the past, the administration had always told us there was a drill and what time of the day. My classes had trained in this. During the school year, we might have run this drill 4 times. Did all the students take the drills seriously? No, they didn’t. If I’m being honest, maybe I didn’t entirely either. Oh, I ran the drills, kept the kids as quiet as I could, and told them to take it seriously. But, no one is really prepared for this to be real.
This time, “Code Blue” meant this is not a drill. There is an active shooter in the building. This was a few years before cell phones, so there was no communication to the classroom teachers. I had to think and move quickly. I looked at the 4 corners of my classroom and quickly judged which corner would be the safest. My door had a piece of glass that would allow someone to look in. I put all 28 of my students in the one corner that couldn’t be seen by that window and told them to stay there and be quiet. Some students didn’t realize that this was not a drill and started chuckling. I addressed this quickly and in a tone of voice I doubt my students had ever heard from me before. I meant business. Once I got them herded to the corner with the lights off. I ran to go lock the classroom door. I saw lots of students in the hallway and as I was closing the door I swept in as many students as I could. I’m sure they didn’t know why I did that, but I knew I was getting them out of danger.
As I got everyone in the corner and quiet, we could hear running in the hallway. I could see two relatively tall boys all in black with face masks and huge rifles. As they ran, they were shooting. Bullets went screaming by our classroom. My kids and I were petrified. This was way too real. I kept thinking, “I have to keep these kids safe. Their parents were depending on it.” I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I kept re-running in my head if I had repeated all the steps in our drill. I had of course. This was just the anxiety talking. We stayed in that corner with no one speaking and all of us barely breathing for 3 ½ hours. Scared was a huge understatement as we were all quickly realizing that we might not make it out of here. I did my best to whisper words of encouragement. “We are a team and I will do whatever I can to keep us all safe.” “Stay as calm as you can.” “Take deep breaths.”
What seemed like an eternity came and passed. A policeman came to our classroom and told us to follow him out. He said it was safe now. I later found out that they had not caught the two boys at that point. But, you better believe we did every single thing that policeman told us to do.
After getting us outside and the police checking us all for any guns, we were put on a bus and taken over to an empty church parking lot a very safe distance away. There the parents were waiting, the tension and worry too much for them as tears rolled down their cheeks even before being reunited with their precious son or daughter. I was last off the bus, waiting for all my kids to get out and safely into their parents arms. As the last student got off the bus, and my feet hit the ground, I realized that I had tears running down my cheeks too. I was so caught up in keeping those kids safe, I hadn’t noticed. I had been as brave as I can remember me ever being while the kids were in my care. But, once they were safe, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. My job was done. None of my kids were hurt.
It turned out the 2 boys were caught a couple of miles away from the school. During their shooting inside the school, no one was killed or even hurt. Thankfully, they were completely inept at shooting. They hit the lockers, they hit the trophy case, they hit some walls, but no people. When I eventually returned to my classroom, I saw that 3 bullet holes were in the wall of my classroom. We were very, very lucky to be safe.
What did I learn from this?
First, the trauma doesn’t end when everyone is safely at home. We had to talk about what happened to us. Our first week or two of classes were spent discussing, venting, and crying over what happened to our little math universe. We were already a close group of people in our class, but this horrible event built a bond that none of us saw coming. We were family after that.
Second, when you do the lockdown drills, take them seriously. It happened to me and it could happen to you too unfortunately. Look around your classroom and make sure to scope out where you would hide the students so that no one could see you from the hallway. Make the kids actually hide. After this happened to me, I would tell my future classes about it. I wanted them to know I would never play act this with them. Everybody knew to take it seriously.
Third, make sure your school has locking classrooms. I’ve taught in schools without locks or where I was not given a key. The community college I worked at didn’t feel the need to give professors keys. Yes, I did have an active shooter event there as well. I would not work at a school any longer without locked doors. It’s simply not worth the risk.
Finally, I would say, “Carry on.” Work with your students like you have always done. Help them learn your subject. Build up their confidence in themselves. Give them TLC if they need it. Build a group dynamic that makes your classroom a place your kids want to be. Do what you always do because you can’t stop the risk of an active shooter in your school.
Just teach, good luck and stay safe!
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