Life or Death Professional Development

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You know what’s funny about school shootings?

It’s the only time the public still universally loves teachers.

We don’t trust them with collective bargaining rights. We don’t think they deserve a decent salary. Heck! We don’t even trust their judgement to design their own teaching standards, lead their own classrooms or be evaluated by their own principals!

But when armed assailants show up at school, then we think teachers are just great.

When angry teens arrive rifles strapped to their trench-coated backs, carrying duffel bags full of ammunition – then teachers are heroes.

I guess you can’t standardize your way past a bullet.

My school district had an outstanding training today. Administration brought in current and retired FBI agents, local law enforcement and EMTs to practice active shooter drills with the teachers.

We spent the morning learning about common factors between various school shootings, what to look for to stop the violence before it even begins and what strategies we should consider if we’re ever in such a situation.

This may sound a bit vague but the trainers asked us specifically not to give away the details. They fear if too much of this becomes common knowledge, mass shooters will better be able to prepare for their killings. So in deference to law enforcement, I’m not going to get into any specifics that might help a shooter increase his body count.

The afternoon was taken up with various scenarios. We were split into groups and given roles to play as a law enforcement officer took on the role of a school shooter.

The officer had a gun filled with blanks. We were given the opportunity to hear what it sounds like to have a gun go off in our building at various distances. It certainly wasn’t what I expected but gave us an excellent point of reference in case the real thing ever happened.

Probably the most frightening scenarios were in our own classrooms. I was sent to the room where I teach with a group of teachers who would play the role of students. Then we practiced locking down.

When the announcement was made, I locked my door, had the “students” turn over the desks for cover and turned off the light. One of the “students” was an army veteran so he tied his leather belt to the doorknob making it harder to open.

We heard the shooter walking the halls, screaming at others, even knocking on our door and trying unsuccessfully to get inside.

However, in the very next room, he broke in causing real damage to the door. He made the teachers kneel on the ground and asked them if they had children, if they wanted to live before shooting them with blanks.

When it was over, their faces were bloodless and scared.

During another scenario, I was only able to save one student in my room before the shooter arrived. I looked right at the shooter before slamming my door shut. There was just no time to do more.

The two of us hid along the wall with the lights out. We even tried our army friend’s belt trick but it did no good. The shooter broke through the door breaking the belt. I had my chair raised above my head and brought it down gently on his gun arm as he entered the room.

He turned to me and said “that was a good idea,” before shooting me. In my defense, had this been real and not practice, I would have brought the chair down with much more force. But dead I remained until police swept the room and the scenario ended.

A friend of mine in another room said the shooter entered her classroom and asked, “Who’s the teacher!?” My friend rose from the floor and said it was her. He took her outside of the room at gun point, turned her around and told her to run. She said she tried to follow his directions but her legs barely obeyed her. She doesn’t remember if he shot her.

Others froze in the halls against lockers or on the floor becoming easy targets as the shooter approached.

At one point he yelled, “Where’s the principal!?” Another friend calmly gave him directions how to get to the office. “Just go out these doors, make a left…” But by then the principal had already run from the building. She admitted to feeling horrible after she was safe.

We did a few other scenarios where the shooter approached us in areas where there was much less cover and you had to decide immediately what to do, where to go. It became something of a mad dash. One of the teachers even fell and broke her nose. She was treated on the scene by EMTs and taken to the hospital.

All-in-all, it was a thoughtful and fascinating training. It’s unfortunate we need to take the time away from academic concerns, but it is necessary. Our trainers called it “fear inoculation.” They said it would help us be less frightened, more able to act if the real thing ever were to happen.

The irony is that our public schools ARE safe – safer even than our homes. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening than you do being involved in a mass shooting. But these things do happen and it’s best to be prepared.

It certainly brought home the experience for me. I know what I’d do. I’d protect my students with my last breath. I think most teachers would. It’s who we are.

We don’t get into teaching for the salary or tenure. We certainly don’t do it for the standardization, dwindling autonomy, and fading professional regard.

We do it for the children.


I was honored to have this article featured on Freshly Pressed.

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37 thoughts on “Life or Death Professional Development

  1. Very interesting. I think it should be something taught at all schools- if for no other reason than to confront that fear up front. Great post, thanks for sharing what you could- and for not sharing what you shouldn’t. Ethics are in short supply these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this honest post. The “lockdown” drill was done recently at my daughter’s school and I was afraid she would be terrified by it, but she barely even knew what it meant. A far cry from the tornado drills I remember as a child. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Incredible post. Really eye opening. Hope the ‘Trainers’ don’t come find you because of this post.

    Very different to what we have to deal with here in Africa, where the problems are more along the lines of students having no food and the schools not even having teachers to teach. But incredible to see what is being done because we see the news about the shootings in schools in America.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow!! Im glad you added that schools are safe places…im from ireland…all we here about american schools is the bad stuff…poor school dinners and school shootings!! thats the media for ya! Reading about the training you experienced seems surreal!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The entire post made me question yet again why the focus would be on scaring teachers, parents, and children’s and performing these ridiculous training sessions while the real issue is consistently ignored – gun laws. Sometimes this country baffles me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Don’t give away details of how to protect yourself from a maniak with a gun” – is that seriously the advice you got? What about taking guns out of hands of evil maniaks, and restricting access to automated weapons – wouldn’t it be a better strategy?

    But I know, gun control is too sensitive, so giving children bullet-proof backpakcs and “inoculating fear” into the teachers is a safer way to deal with the problem. Yes, I am being overly sarcastic and its a real problem, but its (literally) plastering a bullet wound – dealing with sympthoms rather than causes, and reading this from a country (and a continent) with low levels of firearm posession and tight controls over access is just surreal.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s interesting to hear about that sort of training being taken so seriously. When I worked for the schools, the attention paid towards such things was…lackadaisical. Both Columbine and Bailey, and now actually the Aurora theater, were less than forty five minutes away and still fresh in people’s minds.

    Being responsible for conducting lockdown drills, I was aghast to discover that during unannounced drills, teachers opened doors after nothing more than a knock approximately one third of the time. They simply weren’t taking it seriously.

    It’s not about fearmongering or scaring children any more than it’s about teachers dying to protect their students. All of those things…suck. A day like that is about providing an otherwise inexperienced person with an example of what sensations and sounds and smells and emotions to expect in such an unfortunate circumstance. After all, most people never get shot at, whether it’s at school or not.

    What a good experience to share on a work day.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. People tell me thank you all the time. I still can’t wrap my head around it, who in their right mind says thank you to a person indoctrinated into the art of war. I smile maybe a thank you back but always leave them with “please thank a nurse or a teacher”. Yes Doc Holiday I’m cross….. thanks for the read. Come on over and be a part of the American Dream when you get a tick!
    -F

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved the narrative! Could feel the fear.

    As a fellow educator and staff developer myself, I believe timely and necessary training is good for educators. I was exposed to an ‘active shooter on campus’ presentation last school year. It was powerful, for sure! While reading your post, though, I kept thinking, “Lost instructional time. What were the kids doing while you were in training? Sub in class? Worksheets? Or was it a day off for students?” When you referenced your own classroom, I inferred students must be out of school….

    My high school students and I talk a few times each year about what to do if any number of things happen, including intruders. I also require my students to sign out every time they leave my classroom during a class period. I tell them, “This is a safety issue. If something breaks loose, I want to know where you are so I/we can protect you.” These scenarios help reinforce that reminder. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post. And, for your information, there’s one person I know who has no idea what teachers are about, but boasts she does and is about to be re-elected as Governor of New Mexico where I live. It’s Republican incumbent Susana Martinez. In essence, she says teachers aren’t worthy of full time pay because they aren’t committed “two and a half to three months a year” every summer. Yikes. And to think the Republican Party is trying to push Martinez as a 2016 VP candidate. They should all go back to school and relearn the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What are your thoughts on including children in the drills? Not too often, as to desensitize them or make them not take them seriously, but maybe a few times a year. Coming from a person who’s house has been broken into 4 times I don’t have a second thought on practicing break in drills with my son. I incorporate it with fire drills, earthquake drills, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a horrible training, yet very good. But I can’t help myself to avoid smiling about the stupidity and wonder: “How about banning guns, would that help?”. Here in The Netherlands guns aren’t allowed and we never have shootings.. This training to my is fighting symptoms instead of the cause.. And if you don’t fight the cause, the symptoms will return. So the government can train what they want, but it won’t solve any problems.

    Glad you survived this training and I hope for a bright future for the USA without guns! Have a great Friday and a grand weekend!

    Kind regards,
    Tieme

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am not sure why I feel this is wrong…but I do. What are the odds of this ever happening? Does it justify the terror? Does it justify the expense? It creates a reality in our heads that doesn’t match, well, reality. I believe in the first decade of this century, 92 people were killed in school shootings. How many students were killed by drunk drivers? I’d say more. I’d say that obviously this SHOULDN’T happen — but training against it? No. No way. Those 92 people died in, I think 32 schools. Over the course of a decade. How many schools are there in our 50 states? No — no — I don’t approve of this training. I don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for getting these thoughts on screen. The beginning of your post where you mentioned how we are under appreciated made me think of something that I have been pondering for awhile now. Do we deserve the respect and recognition and ESTEEM that other professions get?

    I am a special educator and have worked with so many varied teachers in many different capacities (co-teacher, aide, volunteer, etc.), and I have worked in the Bay Area, Southern California, and a few international schools. And in all of these experiences I would contend that good teachers are in the minority. With these thoughts I have recently been thinking that maybe we don’t get the respect we would like, or the pay or other things because we don’t provide the value that we actually could.

    I know that there are so many factors that are out of our control that makes our jobs increasingly harder (i.e. English Language Learners ,etc.), but at the end of the day I can’t shake the notion that teachers as a whole could do more. Am I crazy for thinking this? 🙂

    Like

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