Letter to the Editor: A retired teacher on preparing for a shooter

As a retired teacher, I have such sorrow for those who are suffering from this latest school violence in Brovard County, Florida. I just keep getting tears in my eyes when I think about this day and all the days before when I rehearsed with my students and in my mind what to do should we encounter a “shooter” and the days to come when another violent rampage will happen again. My heart breaks for all.

I recall how perfunctory our drills were at first and then how they got longer and more intense with in-services where we played out scenario after scenario and then had to bring those learned skills of reaction back into the classroom. I recall our resource officer drawing an unloaded gun on a teacher in practice to approximate an assault and how taken aback we were with the rawness of the savagery of videos from Columbine, etc. I took a concealed carry class offered by our district to know how to identify weapons and to be able to unload a gun. We went over what to do when we noticed a stray backpack or a stranger in the building, and we did have lockdowns because of those very things. We had code words to use in case someone was holding the PA announcer hostage making them give a false message. I had a student-made heavy metal fabricated piece of art on my desk that I recognized as a ready possible incognito weapon. We taught kids to throw books or anything at the intruder to gain a partial second to help with survival. We were constantly vigilant, even while eating lunch, on alert to possibilities.

I detested the days of the practice drills with an understandable anxiety of students that we had to allay but not dismiss. My last drill before I retired I recall as particularly arduous. Students had so many questions such as “So we can destroy school property if we need to?” To that student with special needs: “Yes, if you need to throw a computer through a window to get out, go ahead. The fire extinguisher can be used. Here is the belt I keep in the filing cabinet by the door that we will use to secure the hinge to lock the door. Push the filing cabinets in front of the door and go to the corner and be quiet. If we know that the shooter is in X part of the building, we will run to the woods. Just keep going to safety. Here are places to go to reconnect. We do not have a central place as a ‘shooter’ or a co-conspirator could be waiting there to continue a massacre.” And so it went discussing survival skills 101 with high school juniors and seniors at a career center. I had some students with whom I knew I could never reason should they “explode.” And yes, as my years of teaching progressed, so did the level of instability within the student population and in the world, it seems to me. I cannot imagine how to try to prepare young students and those with certain disabilities.

We all have our work cut out for us to make our world kinder and safer. But especially the burden seems to be placed on our educators. My heart is with all of them as they go back into the classroom after this latest incidence of violence. They will do the best that they can. What can the rest of us do?

Kathy Newman, NBCT
Retired English Teacher/Media Specialist
Bethel, OH 45106