Early Thursday morning, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up donuts. This was the day that I was hosting my annual Donuts with a Developer event. Each year, I teach my students how to create a video game. I teach them the basics of coding in bits of time before breaks in October, November, and December. Then, before launching the “code a video game” project, I invite a technical professional who actually creates video games to talk to my students about the process of creating a video game. We usually do the event first thing in the morning, so it has become Donuts with a Developer.
After I loaded the seven dozen donuts into boxes, I headed to school. As I drove the block to school, I looked at the star-filled sky and listened to the news. The story was about the fifth anniversary of Sandy Hook. My heart felt a little heavier, as it always does when I am reminded of that day five years ago.
A few hours later, my classroom filled with students as they settled down to hear our guest speaker. I was feeling particularly pleased because this year I had been lucky enough to find a woman to talk to them about coding video games. I try really hard to expose my girls to women who work in STEM and this felt a bit like a coup.
About ten minutes into the presentation, the principal came over the loudspeaker and said that we were going into a lockdown. I launched into action. I grabbed my keys and raced out to lock the exterior door and then back into my room to lock the classroom and do all of the things that are part of our lockdown protocol. I knew this was not a drill. We had a drill less than two weeks ago. This was definitely not a drill. Best case scenario it was something happening in the neighborhood. Worst case scenario was a place I wasn’t going to go unless I had to do so.
As I looked around the room, the students had done exactly what they were supposed to do. Most of them seemed to think it was a drill. As busy as I was with the necessary tasks, I found myself glancing at the windows to double check that you couldn’t see into the room at the edges of the blinds. I had already checked but my eyes were drawn back there anyway. All of my senses seemed to be heightened. I listened carefully to each sound I heard, trying to discern what it was, thinking hard about what I might need to do.
As time wore on and the usual sequence of events did not transpire, it began to dawn on a few of the students that this might not be a drill. In some students, I could see a slight shift in posture or in expression. Others showed the tension in other ways.
One student passed gas and several of them started to laugh. While this is a normal reaction for a student of this age, it wasn’t a normal reaction for the two girls who were laughing. Neither one of them would ordinarily do this. I looked across at them and gave them the teacher look and pressed my finger to my lips. They put hands over their mouths, but continued to laugh. I tiptoed over to them and whispered that they needed to be quiet right now. It took another minute or two before it dawned on me how out of character the behavior was. They were laughing because of their tension about what was happening.
A few minutes later, another student looked at me and said, “this isn’t a drill, is it?” I looked at her and silently mouthed “it’s going to be OK”.
I hated seeing the tension mount in my students. I walked silently over to the bin where I have a bunch of stuffed elephants. (We usually use the elephants when we take tests and on birthdays. Elephants never forget so the students put them on their heads or their desks when they take a test. On birthdays, we dump the bin full of stuffed elephants on them to wish them another year of wisdom.) I started passing out stuffed elephants. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I thought having a stuffed elephant to hold just might help some of them cope with the way they were feeling. When the elephants ran out, I started handing out stress balls. (I have more than enough elephants for a normal class, but there were many more kids than a normal class.) When the stress balls ran out, I started handing out books to read. The elephants and stress balls and books weren’t part of our protocol. I felt like my students needed something, though. Elephants, stress balls, books, a hand lightly touching a head, and a silent “it’s going to be OK” were all I could give them in those moments of silence.
I won’t go into the details about the reasons for the lockdown, but it did eventually end and everyone was fine. It was a tough day. It wasn’t my first real lockdown and probably won’t be my last. This one was particularly hard, though.
This month’s blogging challenge was to put a phone in my pocket and then listen to the things I said to my students and reflect upon them. The most important words I said this month were said silently during that lockdown.