Friday, November 6, 2015

The Lockdown

I have been in more of these the last three year than well ever.  And I can say that nothing happened.  When are the odds going to run in the other direction?

It is 4 a.m as I write this.  I could not lay in bed any longer as my anger, rage and fear overwhelm me for so many reasons.

Once again I was impressed with the kids. Kids who I did not know and in an immensely large school located on a busy corner for over three hours being on a lockdown where SWAT teams,  Police/Dog teams and assorted other Police descend on a building with little to no information and a history of problems that dominate the news, I was relieved that we did not have secondary issues.

But as I always say, the kids are a reflection of the adults in the room.  After the day before and the class from hell where Security had to stay in the room just to allow me to administer the lesson plan, I thought nothing could be worse.  And irony was that the class after lunch (always a challenge regardless) was apparently such a class.  Different school, different dynamics and school structure. So this "challenging" class had not one Teacher but two and a ParaPro.  Three adults in the room for a class of 30.  A number that does say two things - problem class and resources to offset it.  Why at the supposed academic high achieving class they had no even a support person I have no idea but the reality is that it depends largely on the school dynamics, the philosophy and the support systems.  Income inequity or just the reality of a school system in our urban centers?

So lunch was concluding when a woman with a walkie talkie entered the room, did not identify herself and said, "are you the sub?" I responded affirmatively.  Then she said, "we are going on building lockdown" and walked out.    As I pulled blinds and went to the computer to go on Twitter to see if this was "real" or a drill, the Teacher returned and said, "it is real and we need to get all the students in class"  So I went into the hall, realized it was and watched for stray kids and others as in a drill situation  you need to clear the halls. Yet I witnessed no sense of urgency and thought this must be somewhere nearby but not here.

I then told the Teacher and the IA who was now in the class that we needed to cover the glass in the door, asked where tape was and watched as she attempted to put scraps up.  I just grabbed full sheets of paper and quickly taped over them and then shut the projector off.  She seemed utterly clueless while trying to get kids to move down and away from the door.  She had a cell phone and they were communicating with her via school email.

Now here is where the problem is.  This day there were only a few subs. But there are always volunteers and others in the buildings of a school in a given day.  We sign in in the main office but our only communication with others, administration is usually by phone.  The woman who told me about the lockdown did not ask my name, nor tell me hers or who she was.  That was the level of communication I received.

So like anyone I went on Twitter. Kids were texting friends and of course family members and the misinformation conduit began.  I was trapped in a room of kids who did not even know my name as they had not had a chance to do introductions.  I walked in the dark and tried to get an attendance roster and talk to the kids to say, I know what you know and it is something outside the building.

What I knew from the Tweets was that a kid was 'seen' with a gun, unclear if it was on or off campus and that at the same time apparently a Taco Bell was also having an altercation. Unclear if it was students from the school but it was two young people and there was a belief it was somehow connected to the gun sighting.

That was the extent of what I could garner from the interwebs.  And the meantime the Teacher with me was using big words and telling me that I was not to be doing any of what I was doing. Which was trying to keep the kids cool, while trying to see through the paper anything outside.  I was at some point when we hit the hour mark becoming concerned and with no information even more so.

I saw finally the dogs and cops walk through.  The dog stopped at a locker literally across from the class but then moved on.

So finally at one the SWAT team arrived to escort us to the gym where we were all to go to wait until the building was cleared and we could get our things to leave.  Meanwhile on Twitter it said the building was evacuated. Really it was/is?

 The other Teacher and the IA took the kids to the gym and I walked through the room to pick up all the bags and shoes, and coats off the floor. I put them on the desks and the Police returned to get me out of the room.  I told them I was simply making sure any valuables were secured.  Another woman, a Vice Principal again I am not sure, came by and said to lock the door - contrary to what the Police told me - they said to leave the door open - so once again miscommunication and confusion.  She locked it and I left.

My experience is that they need the doors open as they run through to mark them as vacant and again to check for any guns, etc.  I have been through this quite a bit and it is interesting that I have never been formally trained, have no procedural manual and yet I have been through this so many times I have a procedure that I follow that I feel works.  That is really what it is all about, having a sense of calm and security in what you need to do to make the situation remain just that.

So I got to the gym and another hour of time has passed. The lockdown started at 11 and it is now 1 pm.   The kids on second lunch had not had lunch, the kids off campus returned to a school on lockdown and I had no way of knowing my missing kids were accounted for and who was actually absent that day. I found the attendance woman and asked her if they had a plan to reconcile attendance and she said, "no, not that I know of."  Good to know.

So I stayed outside of the gym and listened to the Police and got the story.  I was asked by a couple of people who I was, I responded "a sub."  No one spoke to me or asked me my name, even a Teacher who had been in a room with me earlier ignored me.  Well that was consistent as he ignored me when he came in the classroom earlier and I finally got up and introduced myself to him.  He never had eye contact with me or spoke to me again. The second Teacher did the same.  As this class seemed to be team teaching situation but I had no information to confirm or explain this.  And this is what my day is like in most of my jobs,  I am ignored, dismissed or spoken to like a dog and that is by the Adults, not just the children. Where do you think they learn it?

So finally at 2 they were enabling the building to be evacuated, three hours after the the start of this and they were going by floors. Floor two was first and as I was on Floor 1 I thought here we go another hour of this.  I was right.  I managed to get permission as I had the ParaPros belongings in my room and we had some Special Ed kids who were allowed to go so I had to get the room open for them to get their things and leave.  So I went into a room with desks disarrayed but all the kids stuff right where I left them.  I did find some shoes and glasses and I put them on a front table, cleaned up the left lunches, tossed garbage and waited.  And then I waited.  Then I heard the dog barking.

That same locker that earlier the dog had stopped, wagged his tail, now was doing the barking, wagging and alarming the crew.  I was sitting there, door open, listening to the debate if they needed a warrant as the dog barked. Then the debate over why it was not alerted earlier and the concern if it was fireworks.   Then a Police Officer saw my reflection in the glass so he came in and ended up calling as the room had the ability to get cell connection over being in the hall, as he called about the locker while I sat there.  That was interesting and they ended up getting the locker unlocked (and that is unclear as at one point as I heard nothing to indicate how they did so. It is actually simple - get the  custodian) and found nothing.  I thought of Radley Balko right then.  And also thought these SWAT guys are kind of hot looking in that gear and had said earlier to the girls who were scared and asking me questions; I told them that I had dibs on any hot ones and that I needed a date so you do what you have to, so sorry I guess I went overboard in my quest. They laughed and one said "can I get my purse?"  I said sure but you need to do it on the down low and she literally crawled to her desk and we laughed. I said good recognizance .

And so after all of this around 3 the first floor kids were dismissed from the holding pen of the gym arrived. The room was in order, their things accounted for and some asked how their bags and coats were on the desk. I told them so that there things were easy to find and if they did search the rooms with a dog I did not want their things harmed in the process.  They were grateful.   Again, keeping everything visible and open makes the idea we having nothing to hide and nowhere to hide it.  I learned that once again from reading Radley Balko. This is my training reading about how cops destroy property in the search for property.

Then the last Teacher arrived.  She was intense and given the situation not surprising but she was before it began. She came in before the drill and said she co-teaches 4th with the Teacher I was filling in for.  There were no lesson plans by the way, just a scratch piece of paper that had notes and listed show the DVD Rome for 4th and The West Wing for 5th. Great plans and utterly inappropriate in both cases, but what do I know?

So when she returned, I said these kids considering were great and I was grateful. She disagreed and then decided to inform me what I was doing wrong.  I asked this young girl how many had she been through to compare, how long she had been Teaching and if she had ever subbed before.  She informed me she tried subbing and only did it for 3 months as she could not stand it, she had been Teaching for 3 years and no never been on a lockdown drill for real before.

So what made this young woman feel she could reprimand me?  No one died, no one was hurt and you know what - that is what matters.  Clearly I have a different sent of priorities.  So as she berated me I decided that I would embarrass, shame and guilt her vs respond in kind.  So as I watched her eyes fight off tears I thought at least there is something I can still do successfully, make a bitch cry.

 This is what it is like to substitute teach, not to commend or support one another but debase and demean and ignore.  She was planning to tell the teacher who I have never met nor had the courtesy to leave me even decent class notes, about my "behavior" and reprimand the class about their behavior.  Yes as if that will happen again at that same time with that same group again and by berating them that will have any affect in the future I can say with certainty no.  All logic goes out the window when panic sets in and my goal was to not have any panic of any kind and that could easily happen with kids with special needs, a sub whom they have never met, the lack of information/misinformation and the sheer waiting could lead to anything.  

So instead of saying or thanking or commending kids and take it as a learning experience, this was an opportunity to do what?  This is the new Teacher, the demean, the debase, the deride.   You see this in Charter Schools and it is trickling into the public sector. And of course the Millennial generation who have the superiority complex times ten who feel that speaking to a 56 year old woman and a 20 year veteran who has been on more lockdowns then she has had dinners I am unclear as to the purpose of that as well.  I am a Substitute and she and I may never see each other again but to imply I put those kids and myself at risk was egregious.  And this is the American schools and Teachers today.

Tell me how to fix it when the Adults in charge have no clue?   And damn that my training and understanding of SWAT teams and Police came from reading a book called Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko. And I heard of him by watching Bill Moyers on PBS, from whom I learned a great deal these last few years.  And that is how I became a better Teacher and Person.  And I am grateful that I have more time to learn more as I want our Students to do the same.

So I came home alone to my home last night.  I knew already that no one would have cared if I had been harmed yesterday as I have no name, I am just a sub, but to those kids in that room, they actually called me "Teacher."  So whatever anyone believes about that moment, that day and that class, I was who I am - Teacher.  And my CV mission statement "no kid has ever died on my watch" remains intact.

Since I have written this the lack of information about the incident has been telling.. I found this comment on a blog from a parent.   I have the same questions and I was there so some of the answers I know but even I am not sure what I know.

  • Why don't we have more information from either SPS or local news media about the incident at *** HS yesterday.
  • Did the student actually have a gun either on school grounds or outside of the school during school hours?
  • Did the police locate the gun - if not why not (was there never actually any gun present or did the student or someone else dispose of it?). It was reported that the student was arrested - what was the student arrested for exactly?
  • Did the student threaten anyone?
  • Who did the gun belong to (owned by parents vs illegally obtained by student or associates?)
  • Was there any kind of incident at the Taco Bell or was this unrelated or misreported?
  • We got all the headlines about the school on lockdown and pictures of the SWAT team there. It was a big deal but there has been zero followup reporting about what actually transpired.
  • If anyone had been shot by this allegedly gun-toting student, the new media would be all over it - with days of coverage. But this potential near-miss - nada. I don't believe this is the first time there has been issue of student with gun at (***) high school  and that was similarly kept quiet.
  • To my mind - its not just the school shootings that warrant discussion, action, media attention - it is also all these instances (many of which we probably don't even hear about) that could have turned out just as bad but did not, either because of luck, vigilance, or lack or real intent.
  • It is HUGELY concerning to me if a child takes a gun to school even if no one is injured or killed and it warrants just as much examination as to why, how, and how to prevent it happening again.
  • So - why the SPS and media silence?  

And today is Monday and yet no one in the schools I have been in on Friday or Monday knew any of this, clearly showing you how well the district communicated this issue as a matter of import and the sheer level of ignorance and oblivion by my colleagues as to what has happened with regards to their community.

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