LATEST ISSUE | TABLE OF CONTENTS | BACK ISSUES | ABOUT VJE | SUBMIT AN ARTICLE
Virginia Journal of Education
First Person: Narratives from the Classroom
Serve and Protect?
By Amy Issadore Bloom
Just before the dismissal bell rang, there was an announcement. “All resource teachers and specialists please report to the lobby. Immediately.”
We went dutifully: the reading resource teachers, the ESOL teachers, the art, music, and gym teachers who had finished their last period and didn’t have a homeroom class.
The principal and vice principal were there, at this impromptu emergency meeting in the lobby. They told us there was a situation, and our help was needed. For a brief moment, I felt good about being called on to help (even if it was only because I didn’t have a homeroom class). I wasn’t always in good favor with the administration, and small things like this gave the illusion of cooperation and teamwork.
Our orders were simple enough: stand at your regular bus duty assignment or another spot surrounding the building.
I figured it was a domestic issue, perhaps an angry parent without custody rights that came to pick up his child. I stood at one of the crosswalks. The buses arrived, the dismissal bell rang, yet no students appeared. Then the police officers came, patrolling the perimeter of the building.
Doug, a special education teacher, and I met half way between our posts as we frequently did on slow duty days to chat about our day. Always one of the first to hear gossip, he told me another teacher reported hearing gunshots.
And we were asked to stand outside, without knowing, without protection. Would I have felt better if my fellow teachers had been armed? Definitely not - unless they moonlighted as police officers instead of holding second jobs at Barnes & Noble or the Gap.
My colleague was standing on the upper field, pregnant, in a bright yellow coat. A young police officer asked, “What are you doing up here?”
“I’m not sure, actually. They told us to surround the building,” she replied.
Surround the building. Like the FBI or something. He sent her back inside.
Who knows what we’re capable of in an emergency? Everyday folks turn into heroes. We learn about them in the tragic shootings of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine—principals, teachers and janitors who risk their lives to save students. I’d like to think I could be one of them in a crisis, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have volunteered to go outside if there were gunshots heard.
My first teaching job was in a “transitional” neighborhood. I felt safe at school, but uncomfortable waiting at the bus stop. Some of my friends wouldn’t even apply and interview at these schools.
I took the risk because I wanted so badly to be a teacher. But the risk we were asked to take, standing outside a pretty little suburban school that day, was different and could have been catastrophic.
The “gunshots” turned out to be balloons popping. “So silly!” some of the teachers said.
But they were snug in their classrooms, while we were on duty. It’s a shame that nobody thought of this first, that the pop pop pop was merely a science class experiment. But after the nearby sniper shootings of 2002, we are all more cautious and alert, less willing to err on the side of innocent fun.
About a year later, we practiced lockdown drills, a smart and specific plan of action that likely came from central office. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it was consistent, and for the most part did not ask anyone to take uncertain risks.
Those of us who stood outside that day spent a lot of time discussing it. We told our significant others. Mine was furious. Most of us shrugged it off, joked that we really were less valued by the principal.
There should have been a meeting about it, to make sure that in the future, a better plan was implemented. We should have at least informed the administration that we would not like to be asked to do such a task again, thank you very much.
Ultimately, it wasn’t worth the effort, wasn’t worth upsetting the principal. With all our advocating for students, we often forget about ourselves. We are afraid to look bad in the eyes of our bosses, our colleagues, the media.
Maybe the principal and vice principal have some regrets about that day. I’m sure they were relieved when the lockdown procedures were handed down. But we can’t always wait for such standardized security measures, for counties, states and the federal government to make our schools safer.
We’re responsible for making informed decisions, even if it means questioning authority—because there’s a difference between being a team player and being complacent.