You can plan all you want, but you never really know how you will respond to a crisis until you are neck deep in the swirling flood waters of it.
For the second time in my career, I now know how I respond to a classroom invasion.
Yes. An actual intruder (or couple dozen of them). A class is in session, who are these people, this could be one of those incidents you see on the news (please, God, no!) situation.
In both instances- the angry, substance using mom and the hostile group of unfamiliar faces- a switch flipped in my brain and I went into heart-racing but no emotion, analytical mode. I spoke quietly in simple sentences and hushed tones. In both, I tried to get help but to no avail. In both, I alone bore the responsibility of keeping a room full of wide eyed children from harm. In both, the worst was not only possible, but likely.
So many thoughts.
Don’t make it worse.
Don’t make the news.
Don’t get shot.
The door is blocked, and we are trapped. (Both times.)
Please, God, help.
In both, I am so blessed to say no one was physically harmed.
In both, the people who did not belong eventually left.
In both, I held myself together during the event but then shattered to a billion broken shards that slowly fell to the darkness of the floor as the rest of the day progressed.
The surface layers of me are once again pieced together, held in place by an invisible butterfly bandage, while the rest of my soul knits itself slowly back into place as well as possible.
But I know from the past that what is currently a deep bruise that throbs with each heartbeat will never truly heal. If it gets bumped just right, the ghost of the trauma of the incident will emerge to hang in the air over me for awhile.
I have had crisis training, but experience taught me more. Things all teachers need to consider:
1) How can you contact someone to get help in a time of crisis? (Any crisis. Health, Fire, etc.)
2) If you are blessed with both an intercom button and a phone, is your furniture arranged so that they are on opposite sides of the room? The more space between them, the greater likelihood you can get to one of them.
3) Are the most important numbers in a crisis posted right by your phone? You can’t go digging for them when you REALLY need them.
4) Are there multiple walking paths through your room so people can try to escape if the situation allows? Rows against walls are not user-friendly for this. High school teachers who are especially fond of this seating arrangement need to give that a little thought.
5) I have had crisis training multiple times, but it never addressed what to do if you are trapped, the door is blocked, and you can’t get help. My advice- be very, very quiet. Do not approach. Do everything to de-escalate, not confront. Pray hard. If there is a visible weapon, still pray hard, but do what you have to do. You may need to be the opposite of everything I just said.
6) Consider text messaging as a tool. There are many different ways this could be used, but it is an option. Think creatively. My future classrooms will now include three or four note cards lightly taped to the base of my phone. They will have numbers and a brief clear message: Please text- Intruder in (room number). Send help. If possible, I will attempt to give them to students who have phones. If not, those numbers are easily accessible for me if I can use them.
7) Keep your door locked and cover the engaging mechanism hole with a magnet strip.
8) Wear a whistle on your lanyard. It is an unusual noise and gains attention and help quickly.
9) Keep a sturdy hammer in your room. Hopefully you never need it for anything but repairs! However, it can help break a window or be a weapon as needed.