Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Code Red: Lock Down: Sit Tight

This post isn’t so much about writing but about the kids we write for.

When I was a middle grade aged kid, we didn’t have emergency drills for what to do if a dangerous person was in the school. Even though my middle school was a bit of a rough place, I didn’t walk around with the awareness that an adult might enter my school and cause harm.

Presently, as a first-year, fifth-grade teacher, I practiced our “sit tight” procedures with my class. (The past 15 years I’ve been mostly teaching in a small alternative high school for at risk students where we talked about all kinds of issues all the time.)

But man, my fifth graders had all kinds of questions and “what if” scenarios exploding from their minds when we did the drill:

“Mr. Greci, what if someone breaks out the window and comes in?”

“Mr. Greci, what if someone comes in though the door and we are sitting here? Then, what do we do?”

“Mr. Greci, what if there is a moose in the hallway and it comes into our classroom?”

I realized what I already knew: emergency plans are just that, only plans. And when they fail, then you have to make a decision and act. I tried to communicate to my students that I would do everything I could to keep them safe and that it would be very important for them to follow my directions during an emergency even if what I told them to do was not what we had practiced.

I also realized that these kids do walk around with the awareness that someone could enter their school and cause harm. And, given the incredible variation in both maturity and cognitive development in my students, I find it challenging to address the whole class when questions come up about school violence.

I don’t have my own kids, and I’m curious what parents tell their middle grade aged kids about safety, and about acts of school violence they are exposed to through the media. As a teacher, I strive to give an honest answer to all questions that come up.

What do you say?


  1. Well, I'm a father, but I'm not sure I have an answer to this. My daughters are 17 and 11, and we have certainly discussed the recent tragedy, but we haven't really talked about WHAT TO DO.

    I don't know why. Probably because I am afraid. Terrified, even. I think I'll talk to them about it now, though. It needs to be done.

  2. Thanks, Matt. I know it's a tough subject to discuss. I'm off to school now.

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  4. My kids range in age from 6 to 16, so it's been a struggle. I want to shield the kindergartener from all knowledge of such things, the 4th grader is very worried, and the sophomore lives in his own world of concert-going and Rolling Stone magazine. I think your approach--of telling them you'll do everything in their power to keep them safe, as well as to follow directions--is the correct one. God forbid that any of us ever have to put any of our drills into action.

    (I love that you were asked about a moose. Only in Alaska, eh?)

    1. Thanks, Michael. And yeah, the moose question was very "Alaskan"

  5. We just had a lock-down drill today, testing out revised procedures following the Sandy Hook tragedy. We've been doing this for years, but this is the first time my hands shook so badly I could barely lock the door.

    Because this time, I knew locking the door would do absolutely no good against an assault rifle.

    I expected questions from my students, but there were none. Instead, they giggled and whispered throughout our lockdown time the way they usually do. Instead of shushing them, I let them whisper, as long as it was very quiet. I was kind of happy they weren't as deeply and profoundly affected by December's events as I was.

    But if your students are asking questions, this is the advice I've been given: Answer only what they ask directly. Don't elaborate. Keep it simple and matter of fact.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!