Your students worry about more than they tell you, and it is often appropriate to handle those concerns with a clear discussion and an in-class drill. You may already drill for fire, tornado and earthquake, but should add any other likely scenarios. For my class, the list is lockdown, diabetes collapse, and migraine. No matter what the issue or the grade (2nd through 6th, so far), my steps go something like this…
- A realistic appraisal of what the situation might be
- What my job will be
- What their job will be
- How it will probably end
- Question & answer, which stops when they start the outrageous “What if’s”
- More question & answer, which stops when they start the outrageous “What if’s”
For example, since I teach in a trailer which leaves us feeling extra exposed, and since we have had to lock down for real, I do a special discussion and drill with my students so they can know what to expect. We start with the realistic appraisal. Yes, we have had to lock down when someone left the nearby hospital and they weren’t supposed to. Yes, the police were looking for them and wanted us to stay safe by not going outside. No, there were no guns involved. No, no one came on campus. No, no one is likely to come on campus. It’s wide open, there are a bunch of windows, we have cameras, and it’s a terrible place to hide. No, no one is likely to come in the front door of the school with guns. The first thing they have to do is climb up a long, steep staircase carrying fifty extra pounds, and they can’t even see the top. No one is likely to try that.
I try to move pretty quickly into what we can do about it because I don’t like to let anxiety develop. I’d rather give them a sense of control. So my first job is to make sure the door is locked. After that I have to decide if we will continue lessons (code blue) or hide (code red).
The students have jobs, too. Their first job is to go silent so I can make decisions, and they can hear instructions. Often, the best help they can give is to get out a book and read. The air technician quietly closes windows and blinds, and I turn off the lights. If something happens to me, we have pre-appointed two emergency captains to make decisions (“Point at the one person in this class that you trust to make good decisions in an emergency.”) and a phone captain to call the office. Their names stay on the wall near the phone all year. Realistically, everyone’s job will probably be to quietly continue lessons until we hear more. This may go on for hours, so be prepared to be patient.
If we actually have a code red, my middle school students practiced using my desk to barricade the door and using their desks to build an internal barricade. I have to admit that we all had fun ripping the room apart to accomplish that. My elementary students quietly walk into the bathrooms and silently sit on the floor in the dark. We practice that, too. Occasionally, there is one student who won’t take the drill seriously. I phone home when that happens.
We follow the drill with a debrief then more Q&A. We inevitably find something we could do better, and several children find the courage to ask what they couldn’t before. When the questions descend into a series of fantastic what if’s, I stop. The idea of drills is to improve your chance of survival, not guarantee it. So no, we do not have bulletproof glass, Kevlar vests, or ninja throwing stars, but the police are coming, and by taking all of these steps, we are buying ourselves precious time for the police to help us. It’s the best we can do.