“Teachers, this is not a test.” Our principal’s voice comes on over the loudspeaker. I can sense the urgency in his tone. “We are going into lock down. I repeat, this is not a test. We are in Lock Down.”
My initial response: panic. Which one is lock down? I ask myself. We have a slew of code words to describe all sorts of emergency situations. I look down at the emergency codes “cheat sheet” that all teachers are required to have attached to their ID badge. “Shelter in Place” is for a severe weather event. “Lock Out” is when the exterior school doors are shut to keep out unwanted visitors. At the very top of the list, the most severe code of all is “Lock Down.”
I immediately scan my surroundings. Thank God there are no kids in here. The lock down happened to take place during my planning period. I have a terrible poker face and I’m sure that my students would be able to read my fear.
I can feel my heartbeat in my throat.
I know that while I am sitting alone in my room, throughout the rest of the school students are being herded into closets and dark corners. Lights are being turned out. Doors are being locked. Teachers are bravely trying to keep their students calm.
I try to remember all of the things I am trained to do in a lock down situation. Cover up the windows. I am in a portable classroom outside and have two exterior doors. I try to stop my hands from shaking as I tape together construction paper to cover the large door windows.
As I shut the blinds on the rest of my portable’s windows, I glance out at the adjoining playground and blacktop. Everything is still and quiet.
I turn out the lights and I sit.
Minutes slowly tick by. My computer is next to a window so I know that I am not supposed to go over there. I glance at my open email program and see no updates from anyone about the situation.
I turn on my school issued walkie-talkie. I hear a teacher ask, “How much longer are we going to be in lock down?” My principal’s response is, “Please, no communication. Keep this channel clear.”
My mind, already prone to anxiety, is starting to race. I can’t help but think of the recent tragedies of Sandy Hook and so, so many others.
Ten minutes pass. Twenty.
I decide to text another teacher in the school to see if she knows anything. She tells me no, and her students are crying. She is trying to console them.
I text my husband to update him about the situation. I make sure to tell him that I love him.
Thirty, forty minutes pass.
What would I do if I saw an intruder? I feel stranded in my portable. I am a sitting duck.
Regrets start creeping in. Why did I choose to be a teacher? Why would enter this profession when we seem to hear stories of school shootings on the news every night?
I use my phone to scan local news outlets and facebook pages, trying to figure out why we are in this situation. No information is available.
I know that throughout the school, the feeling of panic is spreading. I wonder how often this type of thing happens. We rehearse for it twice a year. We calmly go through the procedures with our students and remind ourselves that this will probably never happen to us.
Fifty minutes turn into an hour.
I find a local news facebook page where someone has posted that she saw police officers in vests accompanied by dogs.
Someone else posts that police are chasing an armed suspect in the neighborhood.
Our school is situated in a cul-de-sac, which means there is only one way in and out of the community. I begin to understand why the police would give the order to put the school on lock down.
Finally, after about an hour and fifteen minutes, the principal’s voice comes back on the loudspeaker and tells us we can resume regular activities.
I can feel the relief wash over me. Whatever it was, it is over now.
As things start to go back to normal throughout the school building, I overhear stories in the teachers’ lounge of what was happening in other classrooms. Teachers told stories of what they did to try and keep their children calm. Even still, students wept uncontrollably. Some prayed. Several pre-k students had accidents because they were not allowed to use the bathroom.
Shortly after we receive the all-clear, my next scheduled class comes in: Kindergarteners. They are pale-faced and visibly shaken. I know that these students have been sitting silently for the past hour, not knowing what horrors might be lurking outside their locked classroom door.
My lesson plan goes completely out the window. I decide to forgo today’s rigorous objective and common core-aligned standards. We sing.
We sing with more passion, more joy, and more life than I have ever heard come from such small bodies.
At this moment, I remember why I am in this profession. Because in spite of the awful things that mankind is capable of, we are above all else capable of such unbridled passion and, most importantly, love.
I choose to believe that we are put on this earth with a purpose. My purpose is to make music as genuinely and as fervently as possible. I remind myself that despite all of the terrible things that could have happened today, we were all safe and likely never in any actual danger. I begin to see my life in a much broader perspective. I am so happy to be alive. I am so happy to be in this profession. I am so happy to share this love with every student I am fortunate enough to teach.