I thought I might die today. My brain was processing that thought in a disconnected way. There was no fight or flight response but still …
I didn’t die and I’m actually writing this a couple of weeks later. Here’s the scenario.
I was standing in the middle of a 6th grade classroom at the school where I volunteer as a math tutor. I was trying to explain the complexities of absolute value to a student when the math teacher interrupted to tell me that a school lock-down might be about to happen.
She said that if I wanted to leave the classroom I would have to do so immediately. Otherwise I would be in the classroom until the lock-down was over. I confess to being befuddled in the moment. What was she talking about? She really didn’t have time to explain because she had other things to think about.
Of course I was going to stay. What? Did I want to be the guy who left the Alamo? Again, my brain wasn’t particularly focused. I remember thinking that Julie would be really pissed at me if I died. Then the announcement came, in a carefully euphemistic code.
The students were oddly obedient (they are sixth graders, after all) sitting on the floor along a wall that wasn’t visible from the window in the door. A desk and a chair were pushed up against the door.
The door was locked, of course, and the window was already papered over with student art of some sort. It seemed like a drill.
“Yeah, it’s a drill,” I told myself. Then I realized that I was standing in the middle of the room facing the door. I entertained several heroic thoughts even though I was pretty sure that my feet would not move on command. “Really, it’s probably just a drill.”
And it was, although not entirely for abstract practice. There were some factors unknown to me that made the principal think that this week was a good time to practice.
The math teacher knew this, as all of the teachers did. That made me wonder about their frames of mind when they left home for work those mornings. Did I turn the coffee pot off? Had the dog been walked? Do I have my will in order?
I wrote a piece for esperanza magazine a while ago about what I called “ordinary courage.” Ordinary courage, I argued, is the ability to get up in the morning and go to a job that you hope and believe will produce some valuable result. But there is no guarantee and that’s a big part of why it takes courage.
Teaching at K-12 schools is the most important profession in our society. In part because it is really hard work and it often takes ordinary courage to go to school each day. Now, in an era where lock-down drills are part of every teacher’s training, we should recognize that classroom teachers are extraordinary courageous.