It is the second day of in-service for the 2007-08 school year. Where is the scent of crisp new books, the atmosphere of possibilities, excited voices, teachers arranging desks and designing projects for a brand-new year? Instead of working in my classroom preparing for the first day of school for students, I sit and watch a presentation with other teachers and staff in the high school auditorium, learning information about our newest roles as educators: security officer, emergency medical technician, firefighter. New terminology enters my vocabulary: active shooter, primary target, secondary target, critical incident, modified lockdown, fire suppression, Halon.
I learn that I should zigzag while running from an active shooter, and that it is better to fight a shooter if my only other option is to do nothing and die in place.
I learn that in the event of a critical incident, police officers will not hold my hand or comfort me or help if I am injured. They are there to neutralize the point of danger. It is my job to hold my students’ hands to comfort, to assess and treat injuries, account for names on classroom rosters, and search for missing students: leaving no child behind.
I learn what preventive measures I can take to abate critical incidents: I have to check for guns and knives in kids’ backpacks, check for dilated eyes, check grudges, hurt feelings, misdealings, and Internet tattle-taling.
Meanwhile, my classroom sits in disarray, boxes everywhere, desks and tables toppled on their sides, waiting for my hand to right them, straighten them to be ready for students on their first day. Waiting, waiting …
I sit and squirm on a padded seat in a darkened room, thinking about all that needs to be done, learning that fires are coded into classes A, B, C, and D. (I guess they cannot fail, no F.) I learn that Halon is expensive because it is no longer made, but that it is good for putting out fires in computer labs. Nobody knows why.
I learn the finer points of using a fire extinguisher: how to pull the pin, aim the hose, and squeeze the trigger to secure my elementary school battle zone.
I learn, when in a medical emergency, how to sort injuries, to assess what I must do to secure the most good for the most students. Because I am an educator, I can now ascertain in seconds who can wait to receive medical care, who needs urgent care, and who is beyond care: “Victim is dead—no care required.”
Meanwhile, my classroom sits waiting, waiting for me to prepare with great care the atmosphere and materials I need to give each individual child every opportunity to learn.
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as In-Service