As I swing into a parking space, 102.7 blasting, I notice the AP standing at the perimeter of the lot, expectant, and wonder to myself, “What now?” There’d been activity from admin in recent weeks in response to Columbine–analysis of our security procedures, what emergency routines were or were not in place, personnel assignments during drills–so I was unsurprised to see, as he directed me to the circle entrance, that they’d cooked up a new drill. I had no idea what it was, as part of this drill was to surprise staff and students alike. Only a handful of staff members were “in”. The rest of us queued up at the entrance, answering students’ questions with “I don’t know any more about this than you” and “They didn’t mention this to the faculty either” as we waited for–well, whatever we were waiting for.
The entire school population, holding bookbags or backpacks, slowly inch through the hallway set aside for this exercise. Word floats back through the throng: “It’s a metal detector! They’re running us all through a metal detector!” and “What are they looking for?” and “Did something happen?” Again, we teachers in the crowd simply shrug, once again repeating “They didn’t tell us about this either.” Inside, I’m thinking This is going to be really embarrassing–my switchblade is on my keychain. I begin to wonder if that switchblade, used almost daily, the knife to cut surprise treats kids bring to class from Home Ec, the screwdriver to jiggle a floppy disk out of the computer or to unjam a file drawer (in my defense, the corkscrew was never employed at work!) I wonder, Are they going to take my knife? Arrest me for having it in a school? Oh Lord. Of course, I am packed in among hundreds of students, all bombarding me with questions–as if I knew something and just wasn’t telling–and they have their own questions. “Am I going to be in trouble for having a pager? matches? cigarettes? penknife?” And it was clear they wondered about other contraband but kept silent. Calmly, I repeat, “I’m sure the worst that would happen is they’ll just take it.” But I really didn’t know what the point of this exercise was, exactly.
Warring with those thoughts and that potential switchblade exposure, concerns about my teaching day: FPS books were due, and I’d quickly gone from a Looks like we’ll miss first period concession to Yikes, second period’s already over–how can I get in touch with those kids? inner hysteria. The FPS program deadlines were statewide, and an in-house decision to run a drill on a due date wouldn’t matter to them: I had to collect their books, xerox three copies each and mail them out, postmarked today. Accomplishing this, a scramble on a normal day. Actively looking for Futures kids in line, each time I’d spot one I’d sliver through the crowd into a quick tete a tete, grab what piece of the book that student had in hand with the message “Send anyone to me as soon as you see them. I’ll give them a pass to their next class,” hoping word would spread so I’d get those books before my free third period ended: This, my only time to xerox.
What I did know, and what the kids soon came to deal with in the inimitable way of teenagers, was that we were much like cattle, herded down a chute to slaughter. And the journey was taking a claustrophobic FOREVER. Since I wasn’t one of the early arrivals, I was packed in with the 7:30 crowd. We noticed that many of those who’d arrived at 7:00, the front of the line and well ahead of us, were still being processed at 8:30 through the single gate the police had erected. At the two-hour mark we’d moved about ten feet, still stuck in a hallway, intimately cramped. My morning coffee began calling, “When am I going to get a chance at the bathroom?” Varicose veins began their own pounding refrain. Racing through my mind, a constant restructuring of battle plans for collecting, xeroxing, and mailing those books. And that test in 3-honors? When can I re-schedule that? Every lesson I’d planned for that day, somehow, involved a series of assignments reaching closure, and this drill would bump several things back. I’ll have to reschedule that Media Center visit. And the rewrite due date. I’d intended to return a set of papers today for rewriting, and needed to conference with all my students beforehand. Time just squeezed, and I felt my breathing rate increase, stressed at the day I now faced. Although a colleague had wedged in next to me, we couldn’t discuss what was going on, nor our discomfort, because students were, literally, in our whisper zone. So we chatted about nothing to pass the time. It was at about 10:00 that I first heard it. “Moooo.” First softly, one voice, then picked up by others, in a crescendo, “MOOOOO”ing like the cattle we were. Teenagers have a lovely way of crystallizing an experience. My reverie had taken me to ordinary people herded onto and off of trains, many to certain deaths, past wondering how people could be so easily shepherded to their doom. “Mooooooo” became their battle cry, their critique: Didn’t you think about how long this would take, the conditions you’d put people in, without just cause, the illegal search and seizure . . . My switchblade loomed ever larger in my imagination.
By the time we re-entered the school day, the lunch schedule had been crazily compressed and I faced a manic afternoon. My Futures students managed to submit all their pages by the end of the school day in slapdash, sometimes running deliveries, and once xeroxed (the machine only jamming three times, a record), I’d had to go to the Post Office (via the ATM machine so I could pay for the postage) and was an hour late to pick up my younger daughter from daycare, subsequently missing my son’s transition from school day to evening concert altogether. But I’d made the deadline. It took more than a week to pick up the threads in my honors class, unable to reschedule the Media Center in its busy time of year. I’d had to start a new unit without finishing the last, then revisit the compositions with a tighter due date, and finally, test. And then pull two all-nighters to get those papers graded before the marking period ended. Once again I wished administrators would plan from a teacher’s point of view. Doing this drill so close to the end of a marking period creates serious issues.
Can’t there be room for both security and education?
For discussion: The issue of school safety continues to confound educators. There have been over 100 school shootings just since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy a little over two years ago. So the question remains: Is there room for both security and education?