When I entered college, a doe-eyed, innocent teenager, and began my teacher training courses, I could havel never imagined that twenty years later I would be trained as a special forces agent ready for combat.
At the university I was trained in the art of communication, the science of writing reliable tests, the practice of analyzing data, and the skill of writing engaging lesson plans. On the job training over the years, however, has prepared me for self-defense and preservation in the eyes of imminent danger and death.
My first experience with this type of training came only a couple of months into my first job at a suburban Columbus, Ohio high school (Circa 1992). I heard some “firecrackers” going off in the cafeteria before school. (I said I was innocent, right?) Being the responsible new teacher I was, I went after the culprit as he was fleeing the scene. Told him to “Stop.” When he turned around it took me a few seconds to realize the shiny thing in his hand was a gun and those noises probably weren’t fire crackers. Needless to say I let the young lad go on his merry way. It took the police only about ten minutes to nab him since the station was located right next to our building and he was headed in that direction anyway.
I handled that situation by going back into my classroom and picking up where we left off on Act 2 of 12 Angry Men.
It wasn’t long before schools started doing real on the job crisis training, though. In 1995 at a school-sponsored professional development seminar, I learned how to handle two students fighting. First the teacher tells a kid to head to the office to get an administrator. (This is assuming there is one actually present in body in the building. So, that’s a crap shoot). Next, we’re supposed to clear the area of surrounding students (while we let the two lovelies going at it pummel each other). After that there are a couple of “suggested” techniques to try to stop the fighting. The first is to use our voices in a commanding tone to instruct them to “Stop fighting. Stop fighting.” If that doesn’t work (which is about every time), then a teacher should look to the victim, trying to have another student pull the victim away from the altercation.
We were warned not to touch either of the combatants as it may startle them and cause them to turn around and, in turn, punch the teacher. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the idea of getting punched, so I’ll be the one yelling “Stop fighting.” They suggested that it may be possible to step inbetween the two, but I remember a certain Shakespearean Tragedy in which Romeo employs this technique. It didn’t work out so well in the end, so I’m guessing I won’t do that either. Fortunately for me there’s always been another male teacher around when a couple of kids get the urge to go at it. But, in any case I will know what to do.
We teachers can also shepherd gaggles of children out of burning buildings. If there’s a fire, it’s important to shut all the windows, lock the doors, grab our folder with the “all clear” and “student missing” signs, and walk single file out the door to the parking lot while we watch our building go up in smoke. When we get outside we need to gather our classes in a little huddle and take attendance, reporting any missing students to the administrator. (Again, assuming he or she is at the building on the day of a fire or drill. Another crap shoot.) Actually, we practice this one so often that if there IS actually a fire nobody would believe it and the kids would probably file out of the building as robots.
The most recent crisis situation we’ve learned how to handle is the rogue shooter. It goes like this: If you hear gunshots in the building, go out into the hallway. Grab any students mulling around (unless of course they are the ones with the guns. They actually didn’t stipulate, but I’m using my own common sense here. What little of it I have left after all these years of teaching). Pull those students into your classroom. Lock the door. Cover the windows and the glass in the doors so nobody can see into the room. Have the students sit on the floor against a wall, away from any possible glass, and cover their heads. Remain absolutely silent. Shut off the lights. Do not – under any circumstances – answer the door, no matter who knocks or says it’s okay. There’s a secret signal to release students from a lockdown. It will come on the PA. Wait for it.
Usually they perform these drills while students were sitting in class, but today they pulled a fast one on us. The administrators (who WERE in the building today) called for lockdown while all the students were in the hallways. Teachers stood in the halls grabbing kids by the arm and shoving them into the closest rooms while the students, oblivious, kept heading to class.
A couple of us teachers were talking about it at lunch. We decided if there was an actual person with a gun in our building who tried to get into our classrooms we were going to forego the “procedure” of sitting in corners with our heads between our knees. We’re going to have one group of students throw desks, books, and anything they can get their hands on at the shooter while the others storm and disarm him (or her). Yeah, we might lose one or two, but how many more would be saved? We decided the sacrifice would be worth it. Our Spanish teacher even keeps a baseball bat in her closet for just such an occasion. “You can do a lot of damage with a baseball bat,” she says.
It dawned on me that we were actually having this conversation, in a serious manner, during lunch, as if we were talking about what we were going to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. Teachers often say that they learn more than they teach. I’ve got to say that’s probably true for me, too. And the things I learn never cease to amaze me.