this is not a drill

“Your attention please, this is a lockdown. This is not a drill. Teachers, lock your classroom doors. Once again, this is not a drill.”

29 students huddled up against the whiteboard, in the safety shower and out of sight of the hallway doors. I go to close and lock the classroom door and turn off the lights. I have no idea what’s happening, but suddenly in the silence I hear the sound of sirens, and this all feels very real.

It took 10 minutes for a second (then third) PA announcement to let us know that the incident was happening outside the building and we were not to leave the classroom. Was this now a soft lockdown? Could I have my students resume their end of semester lab practical? I waited, tensed, and on high alert.

Maybe 5 minutes later (though it felt much longer), we were given the all-clear to resume class- someone had been arrested on a nearby corner. The students got back to their assessments, and I was left feeling shaken and unsettled. Why? There wasn’t a “real” threat. Nothing “bad” had happened. (Later, I found out from a very brief news story, that there had been a report of an armed robbery nearby, but it turns out no weapons were found. And two boys – boys – were arrested.) We all got back to class, moved on, just another day.

I am still feeling shaken and unsettled. And when I shared this story on Facebook, other teacher friends shared their stories about lockdown scenarios. Thankfully, none of them resulting in an actual incident at the school, but my fellow teachers still feel upset when they think about what happened. How many other schools, teachers, students, have experienced the trauma of a lockdown? We only hear about the situations that result in gunfire (and honestly sometimes not even then – did you know there have already been at least 13 school shootings in the US this year?)

We will shrug this off. We will say “thank goodness nothing bad happened.” We will move on with our lives, go through finals next week and everything will be fine. Next year, we will have another lockdown drill or two. But as I’m trying to process what happened, why I still feel a vague sense of panic hours later, I have to wonder: what is the toll on us as teachers, on our students, when we live in a world where lockdowns are not drills? What will the after effects of this incident be on our school community? And how much will those effects be openly acknowledged, and what is the damage and the danger in not acknowledging them?

I don’t have any answers. And in some ways, it seems ridiculous to call this a traumatic event (after all, “nothing happened”). But as I’m dealing with my own personal, very visceral reaction, I realize that I don’t really know how to process this. And perhaps that’s the most unsettling realization of all.

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