I heard the news before I left for work.
Rehearsed lockdown strategies for both my classrooms on the drive. Climbed out of the car, gathered my stuff, including potluck food, and made sure my scanner badge was secured around my neck. Passed the badge by the sensor, and as the bolts shot open, I thought about Sandy Hook.
I unlocked the locked door of the now-closed middle school office. K, one of the aides, was working in there.
“Did you hear?” K asked.
“Before I left home.”
“Me too.” We exchanged worried, grim looks. Then she described her fears about not being able to round up the littlest kids quickly enough in an emergency at recess. I shared my fears about being able to keep the middle school boys from doing something stupid.
When I walked into my first classroom, one kid asked, “Mrs RW, did you hear?”
“Yeah.” I told them what I knew. Then added a rap about safety and why it’s important to be able to keep them safe. One kid said he’d break out a window and run. I suggested that might not be the best course because someone else could be outside. He stopped and thought about it.
So did I. And not for the first time.
Every day in a school setting is a reminder. And Sandy Hook, coming this soon after Clackamas, is a real slam in the gut for every school staff member out there. Besides the formal lockdown practice, we talk about what we’d do and how. When we have a scary experience with adult or kid, we talk about what happened, both formally and informally, and how we could do better. I’ve been through two lockdowns as a teacher, but there’s been other touchy situations including a minilockdown. None have involved live action; they’ve been preventatives.
And all that could change on Monday. Or any day of the days remaining in my teaching career.
In the case of a lockdown, if it happens when I’m in my regular classroom, I have to go outside. My room is in an outer wing of the school, near a central door. While the other exterior doors can be automatically locked from the main office, those doors can’t be. I have to lock those doors. Then I have to lock my classroom door from the outside, making sure that my curtain is closed and my door window covered. With any luck, I haven’t just exposed myself and any students in that room to danger.
It’s a strategy I think about pretty damn regularly, really. It’s part of my job to do that. I have nightmares about it sometimes. I probably will have a nightmare about it in the week ahead.
And all of this is a roundabout way of saying that Sandy Hook hung over a lot of my day today, simply because that’s what my day job is and so many of my routines evoke what I’ve been able to read of the nightmare that happened there. I’m a teacher. If some idiot with a gun, a knife, or other weapon invades my school premises, it’s my job to keep the kids under my supervision safe.
This is one of those days when that reality slams home.
Argue about gun control and mental health all you want.
Meanwhile, every day, the shadows of Thurston, Columbine, and now Sandy Hook walk with me as I go about my daily work. For me, it’s not a theoretical construct. It’s a daily reality, one that I practice against with a certain degree of regularity.