"Mr. Getty needs red construction paper.” Those six words seem so innocent. But for my wife, who taught in a public elementary school for ten years, those six words signaled an active shooter drill.
And then the rundown would begin. Lock the doors…lock the windows…pull down the shades…hide the children…keep the children quiet…turn off the lights…protect the children at any cost.
Thankfully, those six words were only a drill for her. But for teachers who are still teaching, preparing for a school shooter is becoming less of a drill and more of a daily fear.
How many students can I fit in my supply closet? What can I use to block the door? Who could I call for help?
Teachers went to college to learn how to teach, but the bottom line is that they are so much more than just teachers. Teaching is a profession that goes way beyond the classroom doors. Yes, first and foremost, teachers are educators. They spend countless hours preparing curriculums, writing lesson plans, and grading papers and tests. But they also feel responsible for educating today’s youth on how to become productive members of society.
Teachers often find themselves thinking about their students outside of regular school hours. Worrying about whether they are reaching the students who might not have the best home life. Making sure the kids know someone is there to support them. Understanding that misbehavior in the classroom is most likely a result of something going on outside of the classroom. Taking the time to help a student work through whatever it is they are dealing with.
Teachers often care for their students much like they care for their own children - and that means they are willing to do anything to protect them. Sadly, when it comes to school shootings, that is exactly what ends up happening. The list of casualties almost always includes at least one teacher or faculty member who was trying to protect their students. All teachers understand and accept that in the world we live in today, giving their life to save the lives of their students is a possibility.
My wife reached out to many of her teacher friends to discuss school security issues. When it comes to ideas about improving school security, the lesson is simple. We should listen to what real life teachers have to say.
Teachers want entry vestibules, key card entrance for all exterior doors, and more lockdown drills
As discussed in a blog written by one of my colleagues last week, a properly designed entry vestibule should be included in every school. Without a vestibule, anyone can simply be buzzed in (assuming the school has a locked front door) and have free rein to the entire building. An entry vestibule helps protect staff, teachers, and students by limiting access to the main office until the visitor can sign in and be verified by front office staff. Staff and student spaces should only be accessible to staff, students, and approved visitors. One of the best ways to ensure this is by including an entry vestibule in the school’s design.
Electronic Key Card Access
If a secure vestibule is in place, shooters will look for the next easiest way to enter the building: other exterior doors. Most schools have exterior doors that automatically lock when closed. These doors are to remain closed - which is a great security policy, in theory. But in practice, teachers often prop those doors open to reduce the transition time from recess back into the building.
If all teachers are required to wear an ID badge, why not add an electronic key card that provides access to all exterior doors? That way teachers can swipe their badge and get back into the school without having to find the right key on a chain that might hold ten or more keys. Or without propping the door open for the sake of convenience. Electronic key card access would make it easier for teachers to follow the policy, keep the exterior doors to their classrooms closed, and prevent unauthorized access into the building.
When was the last time you heard about someone dying in a school fire? The 1980s? Lockdown drills or active shooter drills should be practiced as much, if not more than, fire drills. Practicing what steps to take in the event of an active shooter is helpful for the students and for the teachers and staff. It may seem disturbing that kids nowadays have to participate in these drills, but even more disturbing is running around a classroom with an active shooter in the school trying to get all the doors and windows locked, all of the shades drawn, and all of the kids in a safe hiding place, all while making sure everyone stays calm and quiet. Without practice, this is an almost impossible task we are asking our teachers – and students – to do.
There’s a saying I heard a lot while playing sports in my youth, and it says, “Don’t just practice something until you get it right, practice it until you can’t get it wrong.” Teachers can’t afford to get it wrong when it comes to protecting their students, so why not practice it with lockdown/active shooter drills?
Let’s Support our Teachers
Teachers have more than enough to think and worry about. It’s a sad sign of our times that so much of their energy and focus have to be on how to keep their students safe. So let’s do what we can, what many teachers say needs to be done, to try and help alleviate some of that worry. I don’t think they are asking for too much when they ask for entry vestibules, key card entrances, and lockdown drills. Do you?