Editor's note: Montessori Children's Elementary teacher Lisa Dehaine wrote this on Thursday morning, June 12, as her way of processing an incident that had occurred at the school at 717 Ninth St. the day before, when sheriff's deputies searched from the air and on the ground for a suspect who had evaded them.
By Lisa Dehaine
Yesterday was the last day of school for the private Montessori I work for. Normally we walk all 60 children two blocks down the street to a local park for our annual end of the year picnic. The children are usually dismissed after the picnic to their parents, who may or may not be in attendance. Some just come at the end to pick up their children.
Well, yesterday was a first for us. As we brought the children outside to pair the preschool students with our older elementary students, we noticed that the sheriff's helicopter was circling overhead and announcing something about "a man in black.....call 911." "Hmmm....what is this about?"
I looked down the street and there was a sheriff's car, lights going, sheriff standing outside the car on alert. "Hmmm....maybe this isn't a good time for us to walk to the park." I go down to the sheriff and explain that our 60 children were about to walk to the park and asked if maybe this wasn't a good time for that. Well, not only was it not a good time, but within 15 minutes we had 60+ children (because now some siblings had arrived for the picnic) and close to 20 parents on lockdown inside our school. No, not a good time to go walking. A fugitive was on the loose and hiding someplace between the block our school is on and the park two blocks away!
When you are on lockdown at our school, it means that we put all the children into one room, they are all accounted for, every access point into the school is locked/secured, and you attempt to explain the situation in a "not scary way" and keep them entertained and calm.
Now calm in this instance is a must, because if you have to quickly mobilize 60 children or give instructions that they have to follow, it is important that they are as quiet as possible and paying attention. That in and of itself is not an easy task even with all 10+ teachers in the room. Lucky for us our children are pretty awesome!
We put a movie in and for the most part they relaxed and sat quietly. However, there were a few children who were sensitive to the situation and had some fear. We as teachers need to comfort them and ensure them they are safe. To do that we have to have a relationship in which these children trust us (this is where all that relationship building from the previous 10 months comes into play in a big way!). Our children know we will keep them safe, and we were able to comfort and assure them.
Across the front of this room — the only room large enough for all the children — is a wall of windows — about 4 feet in height. On lockdown every access point to the school is either locked or secured. If there are windows in the room where the children are, the teachers secure these windows — by standing in front of them — we become a human shield over these children.
So, here I am standing in front of these windows, looking at a room full of children — 2 of whom were my sons. Behind me — outside the school — there is a fugitive loose and sheriffs are trying to find and apprehend him. Now the chances that our school will be impacted by this in any way (other than the lockdown) is so slim. However, there is still a chance — there is still some sense of threat. So here I stand in front of these windows thinking about the 3+ school shootings that have happened THIS WEEK in other parts of the USA — and I wonder — did I sign up for this? I'm looking into my son's face and thinking, if I get shot he's going to see this. I have a family. Did I sign up for this?
As I stood for over an hour in front of these windows I had to think — am I really willing to take a bullet and give my life to keep every young soul in this room safe? Yes, I am.
So there I stood, next to every other teacher at our school, shoulder to shoulder, creating a human shield, willing to do what was necessary, even give our own lives, to keep our children safe.
Did we sign up for this when we became teachers? I don't think any one of us consciously thought about that specific instance when we became teachers. We were more focused on helping to create the next generation of great thinkers, authors, doctors, inventors, Nobel Peace winners, Olympic athletes. However, in these times, when it seems each week we hear about the loss of life due to another school shooting and we read the stories about how a teacher shielded students and died doing so, I wonder if our new generation of teachers are having to consciously think about that responsibility being part of the job and about the risks of becoming a teacher.
When I chose to become a teacher, I didn't sign up to be a human shield. But yesterday I realized I accept that responsibility. I accepted it along with all the other teachers who stood by my side and along with every teacher who walks into a classroom each day.