Thursday, September 01, 2005

Active Shooter

Today was perhaps the most interesting day yet in my training to be a teacher at Lakeville South High School.

We have had the typical training of any school--how to use the grading system, how to use email, how to request a "guest teacher" (sub), what are the policies on dress code and tardies and truancies, where to go to for certain things (which dean does scheduling and which dean will help figure furniture out), what the principal's secretary's favorite treat is (chocolate). We have had typical training for a facility with new technology--how to update grades for the web, etc. We had talks about the different key words for the building--"caring," "listening," and "connecting." We had talks about another big key word, which is tested not just daily but hourly (and minute-ly for people like the principal and DeAnn, the principal's secretary)--FLEXABILITY. (Trust me when I say that I have seen so much, heard so much, experienced so much that I know a version of the true meaning of this word!)

The emergency training is always what has frightened me the most. It's serious stuff--if you mess up, it's not some person's grade that might change (and can be fixed), and it's not something you can apologize for later. If you screw up in these situations, someone could be seriously injured or die.

We had trainings on fire drills and all of that on Tuesday. Nearly all of the classrooms have windows, so it's going to be interesting in the threat of a tornado.

What's even more interesting is that we have windows on our classrooms going into the hall. There aren't really any blind spots in my classroom.

Which makes it pretty unsafe if there is an active shooter in the building--a simulation for which we had today.

I dreaded this simulation more than I am nervous for the first day. And our principal, when introducting the Lakeville Police Department, admitted that he had never gone through this training before and more then all of the other glitches and potential problems, he had been the most [nervous? dreading? something that describes similar feelings that I had] about this event. And with good reason--my friends at Lakeville North went through the training earlier in the week and when we had the breakfast meeting with the superintendent; they said it was pretty scary and a guy comes out with a gun and a mask... wouldn't you be afraid if this was what you had to look forward to on Thursday morning???

And it was scary, and that is a good thing. If this thing ever happens to our school, we need to be ready and we cannot think we will panic and crawl into the fetal position. We need to be prepared to run and look out for the kids.

The police chief came in and talked to us, then two gentlemen gave us a power point presentation on things like warning signs, previous incidents (there is a timeline of recent worldwide school shootings that is fairly eerie, especially since Minnesota has two of the three most recent shootings on this website), procedures, etc. The priority list slide was the one that shouldn't have surprised me, but made the job of an officer hit home in a bigger way--the hostages, the innocent bystanders, the officers themselves, then the shooter. I wasn't surprised that they would put the shooter last, but I shouldn't have been surprised at the priority list; I couldn't stop thinking about the sacrificies these women and men make in order to protect other lives. Who puts priority on my life over a police officer with kids at home? It's a choice that they make when they become an officer, and I admire that kind of willingness to sacrifice.

We then went through two simulations--one in the commons area. As you can see in some of the pictures I posted above, this commons area stretches two floors overall and even to the third floor in some spots. The upper picture--the shooter came in at that lower right hand corner landing. You can see a red railing and a guy with a construction hat. Of course, the school is nearly done (the picture was taken in April), so it looks a lot better, but you get the idea. I know it will take some time before I can look at that spot and not have the image in my head of this guy in black coming out and shooting a gun. And we ran. I didn't know how we would react, and I think that was the point of the whole thing. Some of us ended up going to the auditorium (woo hoo, my second classroom!), including the principal. He found himself holding the door open for all of us, and then gave up and ran in as well... he asked about that in the Q&A afterwards--what is the teacher's roll? We also had a simulation in the hallway... the guy came in again, all tough and spread legged and shot off his gun (with blanks, of course) and we bolted into classrooms... they had a tape of kids screaming in the hallways (which was really terrifying when you begin to consider the reality of the situation--as a teacher, or even just as a human being, your instinct is to go out there and help those kids who are afraid) and it all "ended" in my mentor's classroom. The police came in and shot him (with blue paint pellets)--two to the chest, one to the head. I wasn't brave enough to go into the classroom where it ended, but I was told it was pretty scary in there too--they guy was yelling at the people not to look at him, etc. and when the police came in, it was instant with no warnings ("Stop!" or "Drop your weapon!"). I can only hope they can tell what person to shoot--it's pretty easy when the guy is wearing a helmet and a vest--he stands out--but when it's mass chaos and the shooter looks like every other kid, it might not be so easy!

This is the part that concerns me the most, besides the actual idea of being shot--what is the teacher's roll? Obviously, we are the adults in the situation and one of the presenters kept saying, "You have to live with your choices, just like anyone else would have to do." He said we're not being trained to be bodyguards, but he did point out how a gym teacher controlled the situation at Rocori High School was able to stop the situation. Will I know what to do? And when you are in the classroom with your students and another student is banging out the door to be let in--do you do it? The officer said to use your judgement. If we let the person in, we are risking the lives of all the kids in the room--we could be letting in the shooter and we could be letting the shooter have a window of opportunity. If we don't let the person in, we could risk that person's life by leaving them in the hallway.

Anyway, clearly this is on my mind as it is fresh and real to us--I hope that this training will never have to be used, but I certainly feel more confident now that we have had the training. (This article even mentions Lakeville and how it trains for these situations.) They mentioned how there hasn't been a fire-related death in school in twenty years, but we are required to have nine fire drills in a school year, so the readiness is a big part of it.

I think one of the biggest things that we can do as teachers is make those connections with students--a lot of these shooters felt ostracized and were frustrated. I know that it's not the same as classmate approval, but it's good to let these kids know that you care about them as a whole person. Watch for the warning signs and take early action. I know this can't always be the case, but I wonder how many of these shootings have been headed off due to the efforts of teachers, deans, principals, other staff, fellow students, and the police. There was a story about a student at North who was being watched by the FBI, and the officer told us of how, along witha dean and a principal, they made connections and got to the point where this kid (who was clearly someone who would give off red flags to anyone--I think he may have gone to those camps in Iraq in the summers--his mother being from there--and had many visual warning signs such as posters in his locker and drawings in art that depicted American planes going down, etc.) was waving hello to these people he had previously scorned. Maybe he still did scorn them, but I don't think it was at the same level as before.

Other things today--we had a department meeting. There are twelve of us total (I think). Three are part time and then there are four newbies. Five, if you could the part time person, which you should; he was just hired when Paula discovered she would need to be part time this school year.

Let's see... names you will probably hear a lot over the next few months (years?):

Lisa and Derek are the department heads. Lisa teachers Honors English 10 and AP Language and Derek teaches English 10, English 10B (struggling readers and writers--the kids I will have in Comm-11), and Film Analysis. As far as I can tell this early in the game, I couldn't have better department heads.

Kathy (not to be confused with my friend Kathy at North who is doing the yearbook and comes from the U of MN's cohort) is coming from McGuire Middle School and is the 9th grade guru. The rest of us who are teaching English 9 are new, so we are following her lead. Kathy teaches 9 and Honors 9.

Teri is my mentor and teaches Honors English 9, so it's not quite what I am doing. She is part time, and I haven't gotten a chance to see her much, but like the other veteran teachers, she has been very helpful.

Paula is also part time and a veteran who teaches Honors English 10. She is really nice and told us not to worry, that we should ask any questions of those who have been there a while, that we are a part of a very helpful department.

Mike and Jay are both coming from North as well. I haven't spoken to them as much. Mike teaches English 10 and a Tech Writing course and Jay's main thing is yearbook but he's also teaching creative writing (yes, I'm jealous) and English 10.

Is that all of the veterans? Then the new people--Paul (who is taking Paula's other half of classes--funny, no?), George (who coaches boy's soccer and had taught gym before but switched over to English recently), and those whose names you have heard already--Roshelle and Emily.

Tomorrow we don't have to go to school, but I am. I had thought I would go for the regular school day, but maybe I'll let myself sleep in. I could actually get up after the sun rises for once!

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