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Two School Teachers Speak Out On Lockdown Drills

Can you actually "practice" getting shot at? And what does that do to students' mental states?
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Editor's note from Frances Langum: Above, Parkland, Florida high school teacher Melissa Falkowski speaks to MSNBC about the futility of "active shooter" and lockdown drills. Ms. Falkowski hid with 19 of her students in a closet during this week's mass shooting in Florida. Below, via Mock Paper Scissors, TexBetsy speaks of her experience with her ESL students and lockdown drills. Thanks to TexBetsy for permission to crosspost her important message.

I teach in a Texas middle school, and the majority of my students are refugees and immigrants. I see some serious PTSD on a daily basis.

  • Every year I have students who survived their own kidnappings.
  • I have a student who is emotionally arrested at the age he was when he found the corpses of his family and friends.
  • I have had students who spent time lying in a ditch on one side of a road, not knowing if their parents were alive in the opposite ditch.
  • I have had Central American unaccompanied minors ask why the school doesn’t trust them to go to the restroom and back when their parents trusted them to cross three borders and go all the way to Texas at age 14.
  • I had an Israeli student laugh at the way US schools practice the drills, asking where the gas masks were and why the school wasn’t enclosed.

Like all public schools, my school has lots of drills: fire drills, tornado drills, shelter-in-place drills, and the big kahuna, the lock down drill.

I cheat at lockdown drills. My class practices on our own, with quiet talking allowed. If I know in advance where my most recently arrived refugee students will be for one of the official drills, I (or another adult that child trusts) will be in the same room. I sit next to the student on the floor and whisper, “It’s practice.”

I wrote this about a year ago:

The start of the drill was fine. We sat on the floor where we weren’t visible from the door or window, and I broke protocol by talking to them softly. “It’s only practice. It isn’t real. It’s OK.” I did not know at the time if I was telling the truth or not, but the kids were quiet. Then an administrator walked up to the room and tried to turn the handle. It was locked, but it scared one of the girls. Another girl tried to calm her, but the boy next to her started laughing. When the announcement came on to tell us that we could return to our studies, the beep at the beginning of the announcement frightened the second girl. She cried. A boy cried. The first boy laughed again. We went back to our seats and I explained what the drills were, and why we have them.


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Three of the five kids in the class proceeded to tell me about hand grenades, and how they sound when they bomb a building, or near a building, and how the house can shake. Two of the students told me about having woken up in the middle of the night to nearby bombings.*

My refugee students are children. They are scared children who want to feel safe, who want to be safe, who want to be like the kids in their other classes who don’t take the drills quite so seriously.

Until recently, I would have told you and them that they ARE safe, that America can be everything they want it to be — the land of bicycles and iPads and fractions bingo. But the reality is that yesterday Donald Trump closed America’s door to children just like these. He closed America’s door to these children’s aunts and uncles and older brothers and sisters.

America is still the land of bicycles and iPads and fractions bingo, but is it still the land of safety?

* No one knew the phrase hand grenade. What I heard is that, “Is like a football, American football, but small, and hard like the hand of the door. And when you throw, it go boom. Big boom. Big house go boom.”

And now, I ask again: Are my students as safe as I tell them they are? Unfortunately, no, they are not. They’ve left war zones to come to a country that allows young men to buy weapons and terrorize schools.

How many American PTSD victims do these school shootings create? How do the children of Newtown and Parkland and San Bernadino and Aztec, NM cope in the aftermath?

Who sits with these kids when their school has the next lock down drill?

And will the damn Republicans ever care more about the lives of children than they do about NRA money?

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