This past Tuesday was a typical, fall, morning. I was in class with my SOWO 845, final year, MSW students. During the second half we were hearing from a panel of practicing social workers – something that is a regular occurrence each time I teach this course. But on Tuesday the experience was different, not because of the conversation’s content but because of what was going on in my head.
The classroom has been reconfigured since I last taught in it. There is a podium from which the instructor can manage slides, activate a needed website etc. When the panel began, I was standing to the side of the podium because we were short on chairs. The students and panelists were engaged in a lively exchange when I noticed that there was a discreetly placed phone on the side of the podium. Instantly, the thought came to mind, “It’s there for an emergency, a mass shooting.” This thought spawned a reverie about how I could/would best protect my class and I felt guilty that I was thinking about an “unlikely event” rather than concentrating on every word being said.
The classroom has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and a window in the door meaning that there is only one wall that could not be seen from looking in the door. The windows have blinds that can be lowered and adjusted. That day they were lowered almost all the way down but not completely. So in order to have a chance of being safe if that phone rang, we’d have to get the blinds closed, the door locked, and everyone and their belongings hidden against the one wall that can’t be seen from the door or the fully covered windows. That way a gunman/person might possibly think the room was empty and we might be spared.
On Thursday, I didn’t feel so guilty about this thought pattern. The “unlikely event” had happened again, this time in Oregon, this time with Christians the apparent targets. Reading about the chaos of the Oregon shooting, I wondered whether I or anyone else would have the presence of mind to implement a safety plan. We don’t have lock down drills and mass shooter drills like they do in elementary, middle, and high schools now –drills that I hate the thought of because they seem potentially traumatizing in and of themselves.
While making dinner last night I spoke with my 14-year-old son. Despite his ups and downs, he is so tall, mature-looking, and smart that I sometimes forget how young he is and how things can still frighten him. We talked about Oregon while his younger brother, who is more anxious by nature, was out of the house ironically shooting nerf guns with the neighbors. The shooting came up in the context of something else – what I can’t even remember – and I told him there had been another mass shooting a school. “There’s been another shooting; this time in Oregon.” He expressed shock that this could happen in a state where our family often vacations and has had such fun. Then he looked down, thoughtful and quiet. Last year in his 8th grade health class, he was made to watch footage from Columbine. He was so upset and terrified he couldn’t sleep, crying as he told me about it. They were going to watch more of the tape the next day and he couldn’t face it. I let him stay home long enough to miss that class. He used to have a black trench coat that he found at the surplus store. He liked to play “spy” in it. But we’d never let him wear it to school. After that footage, he told me he understood why. This morning, I sent him and his younger brother off to school. Please God…
So it goes apparently, no end in sight to such madness given entrenched positions and rhetoric. I’ll be in class next Tuesday. Perhaps I’ll talk with my students about what we should do in the “unlikely” event that we are faced with such terror. It seems to be all I can do.