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This past May, just after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 students and two teachers dead and 17 others injured, Jennifer Hibbard, Ed.M.’85, pulled out journals she kept when she was a public school teacher in Quincy, Massachusetts, from 1993 until 2019. She then wrote this story based on her school’s first lockdown drill in 2012 after another school shooting — Sandy Hook. “Although sadly,” Hibbard says, “I truly did not need to refresh my memory.”

“Will my sneakers give us away?” sobbed the little voice near me. Amy’s light-up footwear was blinking with every nervous toe tap. I motioned for her to come and she quickly swapped her spot to squish next to me on the floor against the bookshelves.

My spot is ALWAYS closest to the door.

I hugged her and whispered, “No, they are beautiful … gotta get me a pair of those!” She smiled and I wished I could hug each of my students in that moment as we crouched along the front of the room. The string of students pooled into the corner under the science table. I could see 24 pairs of eyes squarely on me.

They were second-graders jammed into the corner of my small classroom. A larger group than usual. We knew in advance lockdown procedures were this day: lockdown, fire drill, and reverse evacuation. We had our routine: lock the door, pull the shades, turn out the lights, move a few desks, hide, and wait.

Wait for what?

The jiggle of the door handle.

I had explained to the seven- and eight-year-olds that this noise is our safety officer checking that we are safe and that he cannot see us through the glass or hear us.

Our minds and eyes wander. The outlines of sunlight around the six shades. The light reaching into us, comforting and calming. The dimly lit colorful posters. Our favorite is the photo of the hibernating bear slumbering unaware. Our clothesline displaying our Mother’s Day projects: large paper flowers with an oversized photo of each smiling face encircled by cupcake liners and colorful tissue paper, an original poem stapled to the bottom. Our Good Job Board showcasing exemplary behavior: “Teamwork Works” is our mantra. Our plastic shoe holder hanging from the closet door housing the children’s AOK notes — a daily act of kindness written to a classmate.

As teachers, we try to highlight the best of human nature.

Of course, we do.

I try to make eye contact with each child. With a smile and nod of my head, I attempt to relay my certainty that we are safe. All is well.

My arm firmly around Amy. Her feet now steady and quiet. I close my eyes knowing I would remember THIS lockdown drill.

Of course, I would.

We wait.

My mind drifts to my dear second-grade colleagues (70 years’ experience between us). They are my teammates and supportive bookends as my classroom finds itself between their rooms. I remember when we had the locks upgraded in our 100-year-old building. Any connecting classrooms were now locked; upstairs, the intermediate rooms were all connected on their respective sides.

I can see my small gavel that I use for our auctions: the kids earn points for positive behaviors and can “cash out” by buying free time, a visit to their first-grade teacher, or perhaps some private time with one of our stuffed animals. They all wanted Piglet or Eeyore to sit on their desks overseeing their daily work. I marveled at their imagination throughout the year; these creative reward ideas were no exception.

Earlier that year, after Sandy Hook, we, of course, talked about safety. One of the kids suggested using our auction gavel to defend against any “bad people” who might get into our room. Children want to help.

Of course, they do.

I went home that evening and cried again for the Newtown children, families, and teachers. I think of the “what would you do if” scenario. If you are a teacher, you do.

Of course, you do.

I have estimated that a 10- foot ladder could reach my classroom windows if we had to evacuate — ludicrous to even think of it, yet I have. I think of our fantastic principal and wonderful secretary who are closest to the front door; our terrific school nurse and my lovely friend who teaches first grade are within eyeshot as well. I think of my friend who teaches kindergarten downstairs as she is the closest classroom to the back entrance. We are a close-knit community.

We are friends. Of course, we are.

We wait.

No matter how often we had discussed this noise as a class, it nevertheless jars all of us. It is not loud, yet the sound reverberates through the silence and through us. Amy tightens her grip. I signal thumbs up to my kids as we collectively exhale. We now wait for the fire alarm to sound as we ready to complete the remainder of the drills.

When parents asked about safety, my answer was always: “We are as safe as we can be.” Our district and school have done a laudable job addressing safety issues. Yet, in a real-life scenario… How would it look? Where would the “bad people” get in? What would I do as their last line of defense? We think of these things.

Of course, we do.

We weep for the children murdered. We weep for the families shattered. We weep for the survivors traumatized. We weep for all of our children, confused and frightened. And we weep for this country, fractured and reduced.

Let us hug our children. Comfort them. Talk with them. Listen to their concerns. Then let us reach out to our legislators.


For their safety. For their sanity.

For, they are sacred.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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