(The following is a true story…)

The teacher thought this was a drill, but it wasn’t.

The P.A. blared out: “Stay in the classroom, and lock the doors. This is not a drill.”

Caught in the Computer Lab with a class of thirty high school students. They have no food, no drinks, and they will stay here from 10 am to 3:30 pm. Five and a half hours of hell, and the sound of a circling helicopter above them. Streets outside are closed up, and the hallways are crawling with the swat team.

The first couple of hours the only information known is a man is on campus with a gun. Only later the details will be learned from a computer in the library—A group of boys had a confrontation across the street, and it spilled out over to the campus. To the upper level senior parking lot. One of the teenage boys is spotted with a gun, and a call to the police was made.

Ushered by a security guard through a supply room and into the stacks of the library, the teacher instructs his students, “No talking, no talking!” The class stays quiet because to hear students inside might prompt a gunman to rush the room. This is how the drill goes, and this is real now, so the rules are followed. Keep them quiet; keep them calm. Bored students empty the shelves, and use the stacks to lie down for hours of just waiting. No need for books; this is their education for the day.

Stay away from the windows and doors in case they rush into the room with bullets flying. This is what the teachers have been taught; this is what the students are told.

One student after three hours passes out after an epileptic seizure. They call the office and several members of the swat team come in, using their walkie-talkies to call for an ambulance. “I have to go with her; she’s my student.” The teacher is told to stay there, and it’s the one time during this entire siege when his eyes fill with tears, “That’s my student—I’m responsible for her.”

There are no bathrooms in the library. There are 100 students and five teachers. The boys can use a wastepaper basket, but for the girls? One of the women teachers puts on music so people won’t hear as the girls use another wastepaper basket. Other students use Ziploc bags.

Kids are seated at tables with their arms behind their heads as swat team members come in and question them. There’s a special ed student who always looks slack-jawed because he’s on meds. The police take notice of him and start to question him. They don’t like his answers, and start to take him away, “He’s special ed,” the teacher tells them. “He’s on meds.” They take him away anyway.

Three boys appear at the door immediately after the lockdown—they have been left outside in the hallway, and say they weren’t in class because their teacher let them out early. Do you let them in, or keep them outside? What decision do you make as a teacher? It’s your judgment, and yours only. Bring them into the safety of the classroom, or leave them outside to fend for themselves. Not knowing if they are innocent or not, whether leaving them outside condemns them, or brings them inside to condemn the others.

One of the girl students is pregnant and needs water. The boy who sits next to her in class is the father—The teacher didn’t even know they were dating. Not until today.

There is one bottle of water rationed among the students — kids drink from little cups, several students to a cup. This after an early morning faculty meeting about the importance of cleanliness and the swine flu pandemic.

One student asks in a hushed and timid voice, “If they rush in here, will you die for us?”

They don’t tell you how to answer something like this when you’re student teaching. But this is what it means to be a teacher now. These are the questions you somehow must answer.

This is part of the job.

12 thoughts on “Lockdown

  1. Wow, I’d forgotten some of the details you captured. Well told. I’ve been thinking about that day a lot today. See you tonight. Love, P

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Ewwwwwwwwwww. Darlene, this is excellent. I like the style you use. Pithy, choppy, and yet flows like water down a smooth cement stairway. Beautiful. Kind of gross, too, and you certainly captured that in disturbing staccato. Yike, what a great little exercise, THANK YOU!! xo


      • Ah, Darlene, I was just thinking — please know that neither I nor surely anyone else is cold to the facts regarding these incidents and the (stunning) historical trend of this kind of torture. Speaking for myself only, I see it as part of everything else that can be called supremely negative and needing of attention. You are giving it attention, and that’s important. I can’t, however, take part in any emotional reaction to or identification with all of the (ubiquitous now) negativity we’re seeing and experiencing globally. At a point, I guess, the Only thing to do is see it, accept it, move on, create a counterpoint of something — anything —
        positive (or just different). So that’s where I’m standing too.

        The very hardest part of your essay above was seeing so clearly (thank you!) the gauntlet through which the teachers must pass, while themselves being cool, if not cold; unemotional; logical; methodical; and able to diagnosis and act on-the-spot like a triage physician on a war front. All this while their instincts are those of a parent protecting his children. That’s what I mean by “gross.”

        Anyway, thanks for this, it’s great, Darlene.


      • I appreciate your thoughts on this, Lynelle. That was the point of the post – to provide a better understanding of what it is like now as a teacher. We are asking them to do an almost impossible job – and one that they never dreamed they’d have to do.


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