I'm a former teacher. I have held lockdown drills, reassured scared kids, and struggled with sending my own kids to school in the aftermath of a shooting.

Robin Wolfenden prays at a makeshift memorial for victims outside the Covenant School building
  • I'm a mom of three kids and former school teacher.

  • At one point, I had to hide 24 fourth-grade students in a closet in total silence during a drill.

  • When my own kids started going to school, I feared for their lives.

Nothing prepared me for how to get 24 fourth graders to hide in the classroom closets without making a sound during a shooting drill. There was no college course about how to do it, no simple steps to follow. It was a preventive measure I learned out of necessity.

After the 1999 Columbine, Colorado, school shooting, lockdown drills became part of the educational landscape. Schools began practicing for gun violence the way they practiced for emergencies like fires. It was my job to not only teach kids how to read but also protect them from a shooter.

As an elementary-school teacher, I loved decorating my classroom to create a colorful, cozy space that fostered learning. I still remember how odd it was to see the cheerful bulletin boards inches from where my students were hiding during a lockdown drill. I couldn't understand how those two extremes fit together. It didn't make sense. It still doesn't.

Since I had my own children in the early 2000s, lockdown drills in school are all they've ever known. They never went to school without knowing where to hide, how to stay out of sight, and what to do if they're in the bathroom when the alarm went off.

It's a part of their educational experience I could never have imagined, not in my town — not in the US.

Kids are still scared

We've all learned to adapt. I'm no longer teaching, but my colleagues have all mastered whatever skills they can to keep their students safe. They block windows and lock doors. They keep kids quiet and find ways to reassure them even in silence. Lockdowns across the country may be routine, but emotions still run high.

Just as teachers meet the unique learning needs of each student, they meet the emotional needs that come with every lockdown drill. Teachers find a delicate balance between the seriousness of the situation and offering the comfort students need.

Sending my own kids to school is terrifying

Just like every parent, I worry about my kids. I worry about not being there to protect them. I worry that we're not doing enough. I worry that they will not come home.

From the first time I sent them to their elementary classes, only days after the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, to watching them walk out the door for high school, I was afraid this could happen at their school. And I've worried every day since.

Teachers will step up, even when they are scared

Once I had my own kids, I faced the reality that protecting my students could leave my kids without a mom. I knew I would do it, just as I would protect a child on the street from getting hit by a car. But I can't help but think that in a role where I should be focusing on teaching kids how to read, it shouldn't feel this scary.

I know what it is to be one person responsible for the safety of dozens. It's a heavy burden. I can only trust that the teachers who guard my children are teachers for the same reason I was: to help children.

Most days, that looks like helping them learn a letter sound or understand multiplication. Other days, it looks like protecting them from the unthinkable.

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