“I also have something a little bit hard to talk to you about this morning,” I began. My sixth graders gazed back at me partly in wonder and partly in fatigue, as it was our first day back from mid-winter vacation. I cleared my throat, suddenly unsure of what I wanted to say. The words I’d thought of the night before as I laid awake staring out the window danced around my mind in haphazard order.
I licked my lips and tried to imagine what I would want a teacher to say to 11 year old, Prince, or even 7 year old, Princess. As long as I was imagining things, I began to try to imagine a world where this conversation didn’t even need to happen. Since that was about as likely as Harry Potter captaining a new Quidditch team at my school, I began by trying to find out what they knew already.
“If any of you have been following the news at all over break, you may know that something terrible happened at a school in Florida.”
Many students nodded at me.
The room was silent. They were listening. I had their attention. They heard me.
“I know we spend time talking about these things from time to time and we practice these drills together. I wanted to review some of that with you again this morning.”
Some students glanced around at each other, but most were fixated on me.
“I have a lot of closets,” I said, gesturing to the wall of large closets in my room. “I will fill those closets with as many of you as I can.”
I walked across the room toward the large rolling bookcase and table. “The rest of us should hide behind that rolling bookcase and we can turn that table on its side and hide behind that. If we place them right next to each other, it will provide cover for a lot of us. There’s also the corner behind my desk.”
As I mentioned each space, they turned to look at it and then back at me. They were probably thinking what I was thinking. It wouldn’t be enough. Bullets could rip through the table or the closet doors.
“Of course we could evacuate, if it’s safe to do so. We would leave the school entirely and go to our rally point.” I reminded them about where that was.” They glanced out the window in the direction of our rally point.
“What if the fire alarm goes off?”
“Well,” I paused and swallowed. “If the fire alarm goes off and we’re in a lockdown because there is a dangerous intruder in our school, we have to stay here and hide. We have to wait until someone tells us that we should really evacuate.”
A couple more questions followed, but not the typical “What if” questions that are common after a drill. These were serious questions from students who seemed to have been spending some time thinking about what could happen.
“I will do whatever I have to do to keep you all safe and unharmed. I promise you that.” Then I wondered what that would really mean.
Would I really be brave enough to shield my students with my own body and never see my own children again?
Would I really be able to risk leaving my own children without their mother?
I’d like to think I would, but I don’t actually know what I would do.
I hope I never have to find out.