What I Told My Students Today

I told my students to close their Chromebooks and move to the far wall.

I ran to the hallway and yelled at the only student still there. “Run!” I told her. “Doors are locking!” She ran into my room. I’d never seen her before, but she knew what to do. She joined the thirty students already crouching on the floor.

I told my students to stay absolutely quiet. “If you need to text someone, do so silently,” I said. “If you need to cry, do it silently. If you need to hold someone’s hand, do it silently.”

I told one student to sit at my computer and read every email that I received. I told her to relay any important information directly to me. I’d do it myself, but I needed to be close to the locked door, chair in hand in case a gunshot shattered the glass window. If that happened, I’d make sure I was the first person shot.

Chair in one hand, I pulled out my phone. I thought about texting my wife but messaged my teacher friends instead. Maybe they knew why we were on lockdown. I waited a few minutes before my phone silently buzzed with news. One teacher had heard on the radio that the threat, an armed man, was in a nearby neighborhood. We were just waiting for the cops to detain him.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t need to send my wife that text after all.

I set the chair down and walked back to my students. I told them that they were safe, that the suspect was nearby but off-campus, that we’d stay on lockdown until he was detained by authorities.

“What if a shooter actually was on campus?” a student asked. “What would we do then?”

So I told them.

I told them that they’d have just a few seconds to get into a classroom, any classroom. I told them that, once the doors were closed, we wouldn’t open them for anyone. Doing so could jeopardize the lives of the students inside.

“What do we do if we’re stuck outside?” they asked.

I told them to avoid the bathrooms. I told them to listen carefully for gunshots and to put as much space as possible between themselves and the shooter. I told them to stick to places — like branched hallways — that had multiple paths of escape.

“So, if we’re inside, we’re safe?” they asked.

“You’re safer,” I told them, “but you’re not safe.”

I told my students that they may still come into contact with the shooter. I told them that their best chance at survival was to fight back as a group, to use everything around them as a weapon.

“Like you with the chair?” they asked.

I nodded.

“And what will you be doing?”

“I’ll be dead,” I told them. “That’s the only way he’d get through that door.”

The room went silent. Then a voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing that the lockdown had been lifted.

My students stood up slowly, stretching their legs and grumbling about how sore they were. They returned to their desks and opened their Chromebooks. All except one.

The girl picked up her backpack and headed back toward the hallway. She stopped in front of me first.

“Thank you,” she told me.

And then she walked out the door. I never asked her name.

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