We practiced for an intruder last week at school. The principal announced we would have a drill one day, and we spent a little time each day talking to students about it all.
By the time the day of the drill arrived, students knew what to do in any scenario at school. They calmly walked over to the designated spot in the classroom as the door was locked and secured. We turned out the lights and sat very still while police walked through our school, jiggling door knobs and making sure everything was secure.
My students sat next to one another in the back corner of the classroom. We had rehearsed where we would sit, and we were neatly assembled and well hidden. They hugged their knees and were wonderfully quiet, patient and considerate. I was very proud of them.
And I was other things, too. I had a variety of emotions as we sat there silent and waiting. I couldn’t help but think of “huddled masses” in the dark classroom. Some kiddos rested their heads on their knees.
I thought about what must be going through their minds. Was this the new normal? How serious did they take it all? Were they afraid? Have they been desensitized to this type of thing?
We could have spent hours talking for the past two weeks. Since the Florida school shooting, kids have had questions. How many school shootings have there been? Did they have school shootings when you were a kid? Why are high-powered machine guns available for purchase? What do you think, Mr. Tullis? Are you in favor of gun control? Do you think the President is to blame?
Then there would be countless opinions, often beginning with “My dad said” or “My mom said” or “I think.” And why not? Opinions should be heard; and debate, as long as it’s done well, is good.
I urged my students not to be negative toward someone if he/she disagreed. My students all agree that adults are silly, even hateful, when it comes to politics. I had to agree. I did the best I could with the discussions, trying very hard not to side with anyone and trying very hard to promote good discussion.
We also had the opportunity to talk about schoolchildren throughout history – students who dealt with war, nuclear bombs, terrorism. I showed them “Duck and Cover” public service announcements from long ago. We could have spent hours talking, discussing, questioning. There was research and writing to do. It could have replaced our regular curriculum for a period of time.
Above all, I told my students how sorry I was that they had to grow up in such a time. However, I told them that being prepared was smart, necessary, and something that is just a part of life these days.
We talked about why it’s not a good idea to spend your life worrying every second about what could happen. But being aware, being prepared, and communicating is important.
I think it’s important not to dumb down things for kids. Be straightforward. There are always tactful ways to talk to kids. I call it “The Mister Rogers Approach.” Most of their fears and questions can be addressed in a kid-friendly, reassuring way.
Even the “in your face” scary things can be talked about.
I’m proud of students above all else. They rise to the occasion and understand more than we give them credit for.
Oh how I wish they could experience a carefree life, free from this type of stuff. But I am pleased and encouraged to know that kiddos remain resilient.
I am also encouraged there are still people in their lives they can count on; people who care about them and want to help them understand.