Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just a Drill

I was giving my first period class a heads up about our imminent tornado drill this morning along with the boilerplate reminder of the importance of being quiet during an emergency drill when a student raised his hand. "Have you ever been in a real emergency here?" he wanted to know.

I paused and considered. "In all the years I've been here," I answered, "there have been four." The students were rapt, and I know a teachable moment when I see one, so I told them the following stories.

The first time that a real emergency happened was before school even started. We arrived one morning to find a fleet of firetrucks, lights flashing, lining the bus lane and all of our colleagues standing outside. Our school has a rec center attached, and we quickly found out that there had been an electrical fire in one of the saunas.

"Wait! We have saunas?!" a student interrupted.

I laughed and shrugged. "I think they're still working, but who knows? Anyhow, the damage was enough that they closed school for the day. We spent the morning waving as the buses arrived and then immediately turned around, and then all the teachers went out to breakfast!"

"Lucky!" a kid said. "I hope that happens again!"

"Another time, we got here and the power was out. That morning they made the whole school stand outside for two hours," I remembered.

"Were the kids allowed to play, or did they just have to stand in line?" one student wondered.

"There wasn't a lot to do," I told them. "Everyone just ended up sitting on the sidewalk and wishing we could either go in or go home, already."

"What happened?"

"Eventually the power came back on and we had a modified schedule," I said, to my audience's disappointment.

"What about the other two?" someone asked.

"One of them was the earthquake we had a few years ago," I said.

"Oh yeah!" one girl remembered. "I was about 6 then!"

"Well, this was in August before school started, and I was in a teacher meeting in the library," I started. "When the whole building started shaking we all looked at each other and realized that we didn't know what to do. Earthquakes are so rare around here that we never practiced for them."

"Now we do!" noted a student.

"That's why!" I said, "We realized then we needed to be prepared. And that's why we practice for things that will probably never happen. So if they do, we all know what to do. And that's why it's really important to be quiet during a drill, because when the real thing happens, it doesn't always go exactly the way you planned."

"So what about the last emergency?" another student asked.

"Well, " I started, "That was September 11, 2001." I paused, remembering that day. Our school is about a mile from the Pentagon, and we went into lockdown that day after hearing the explosion and aftershocks of the attack. Despite the fear and uncertainty of the situation, our staff pulled together to keep the kids safe and calm until their parents arrived to get them.

This morning as I looked over the class, I realized that most of them did not understand what I was talking about. It happened years before they were born. "Anyway," I said, "that was a very unexpected situation, and it was important for everyone to listen and follow directions."

They nodded. Just then the announcement for the tornado drill blared from the loudspeaker. They stood and lined up in silence.


  1. This post made me cry - glad to have been at school with you during all of these emergencies. And, what a teachable moment.

  2. Your lesson on emergencies must have hit home. How often is it that sixth graders line up in silence?

  3. Teachable moments bring the best experiences- for the kids and the teachers. Thanks for the sincere slice!