School lockdowns and drills are familiar for teachers and students across the country. Many teachers follow a similar procedure: Shut and lock the classroom doors, hide with students, and wait for the all clear.
Practicing for the worst case scenario—a real threat to students’ and staff’s safety—is routine in most places. During the 2015-16 school year, 95 percent of public schools conducted lockdown drills, according to federal education data.
But some teachers have said that lockdowns and drills alike take on new significance in the aftermath of school shootings.
“I think there’s something very sobering about the lockdown drill,” Paul Hankins, an 11th grade English teacher in Floyds Knobs, Ind., told Education Week‘s Madeline Will a few months ago, after the shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and educators were killed. “If you do a fire drill or a tornado drill, they seem like they’re so implausible. ... We don’t come back from the fire drill and talk about how it went.”
Lockdown drills can highlight the threat of real danger, even for the youngest students.
On Twitter, one Boston-area mother recently shared a photo of lockdown directions written on a poster in her child’s kindergarten class. The instructions were written in verse, to the phrasing of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
This should not be hanging in my soon-to-be-kindergartener’s classroom. pic.twitter.com/mWiJVdddpH
— Georgy Cohen (@radiofreegeorgy) June 6, 2018
Not all lockdowns end in tragedy. But the experience can still be frightening and traumatic for students and teachers.
In an essay for Education Week, Illinois teacher Ashley Lauren Samsa recounted her experience of a lockdown during the 2012-13 school year. A student had brought a gun onto campus during an after-school activities period, causing the building to lock down:
One student, Elizabeth, is among those hiding behind my desk. She rapidly scrolls through her cellphone as we wait. I whisper to her not to post anything or text anyone that could give away our location. She shakes her head that she won’t.
I just want to see if anyone is posting about what’s going on, she types into her phone. She doesn’t want anyone to hear us and know where we are.
Smart kid. Smarter than she has to be.
I try to keep my facial expression measured so as not to show the students I am terrified. The lockdown is the longest 25 minutes of my life. But we emerge unharmed.
A bullet went through one of the school’s windows, but no in in the building was hurt. Still, the incident left a lasting impression.
“The emotional scars run deep,” wrote Samsa, “and our situation does not even come close to the trauma and anguish in Santa Fe and Parkland and Sandy Hook and Columbine and so many other places.”
If your school has been through a real lockdown or a lockdown drill recently, Education Week wants to hear from you.
How do lockdowns and drills feel different in the weeks and months after much-publicized school shootings? What are you feeling and thinking about when your school goes on lockdown?
Tell us how lockdowns have affected you and your students. Share your experiences, photos, or videos on Twitter with the hashtag #MyLockdownStory. You can also put them in the comments section below, or send them via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Fifth grade students, from left, Nishal Suchuri, Ricardo Whacley, and Victorine Ndume, position themselves against a row of lockers at Forest Hills Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio, as part of a recent drill designed to train them on how to respond if a gunman comes onto their K-5 campus. —Angelo Merendino for Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.