The Emergency Planning Committee has updated response procedures. The following lesson plans provide faculty appropriate instructions to contain and terminate immediate threats.
By the end of this period, the professor will
- facilitate student discussion about American gun laws
- assess incoming student performance through a diagnostic essay
- discover how her students perceive her
On your first day in your new job as an adjunct professor, give out an assignment. Call it a diagnostic essay. Give a general overview that you expect the students have a high level of English language skills now, and that you want to see their knowledge of writing an essay in American academic standards. Your students are foreign-born, and this class is in the English as a second language department. Since it’s the first day after winter break and many students furrow their brows because they don’t comprehend the word “diagnostic,” calm them down. Explain it isn’t for a grade. Watch their faces relax.
Present the topic for the assignment. Introduce them to the news from two weeks earlier, of a school shooting in Connecticut where 20 children died. Bring them up to date on the event that happened on the other side of this country. Remind them that you are all on the west coast in one of the more affluent cities, therefore safe from atrocity.
Have them read a short article advocating that teachers should be armed to protect their students and classrooms.
Have your students discuss the article with their new classmates. Walk around the room and eavesdrop on the conversations. Observe students struggling to articulate their positions in another language. Notice the accent from the student in the baseball cap. Recognize the simple subject-verb tense errors from the girl with straight black hair when she pipes up in her group. Stop the discussion.
Instruct them to write an essay that takes a stand either agreeing or disagreeing with the idea of teachers with guns. Watch them write furiously as the afternoon sun passes through the bent and broken slate gray blinds. Walk around and silently try to put faces to names on your roster. Collect the essays at the end of class.
Go home and do a search for the gun laws in the home countries of your students. Learn that in South Korea, private citizens can own guns if they have hunting licenses. Their guns must be stored in safes at police stations. Discover that China forbids gun ownership, and those who violate the law may receive the death penalty. Read that in Hong Kong, certain firearms can only be owned if the person has a license, and getting the license that proves the individual isn’t mentally ill is a difficult endeavor. Notice that Japan has a similar strict procedure for giving out licenses to private citizens, which their police organization regulates closely. Move on to Turkey, where citizens can possess guns as long as they have passed a mental health screening, and recent news demonstrates that the country sees individuals using loopholes in order to obtain firearms if they can’t get a note from a psychiatrist claiming that they are sane.
Return to the essays and start to read. Pay close attention to the student’s content and how he organizes an argument, whether he places a thesis at the end of the introduction. Examine the support he provides. Evaluate its worth, watch where his sentence structure falters on the cause of his first language breaking through. Translation is a mode of survival.
Realize several papers in that the ideas are generally the same: teachers should not be allowed to carry firearms because they are too mentally unstable to possess a deadly weapon.
By the end of this period, the professor will
- explore a work-related challenge
- establish that the mind and body do not always send similar messages
- choose fight or flight
Tell your husband that you will work from home today. It’s finals week. You thought you were going to campus that Friday to meet with other professors and agree on how to effectively evaluate final essays, but your class section head sent an email to postpone the meeting. Hear the door close as he leaves. Tap away at the computer and prepare the final exam for your Monday class and enjoy a Friday that doesn’t include grading hand-written essays.
Reach for your cell phone after it buzzes. Glance at the text from the campus police with the subject line: a shooter on main campus. Hear the helicopters hovering outside your apartment moments later. Remember you only live 15 minutes away, and the place you have traveled to about every day has a perpetrator ready to take down people you have come to know for the last six months.
Tally the people you know are on campus that day, see their faces, remember the jokes you made while in the limbo between classes. Go to the living room and turn on the television to see the ongoing news coverage and your school, your workplace, shown from an aerial view. People standing out on the street. Siren lights flashing. A clip on a continuous loop of a uniformed man running towards the campus holding his assault rifle vertically, getting into position.
Feel your breath shorten, your brain lose oxygen. Question the essence of being. Text your husband. Text your parents. Say you are OK. Receive response texts wondering why you say such things and asking what’s wrong. They haven’t seen the news. Get coaxed by your mother, another teacher who has evacuated her high school too many times because of bomb threats. Let her tell you to turn off the television, that she’ll keep you posted and contact you when she knows the fatalities.
Try to return to your papers. Feel the magnetic pulse of similar charges, that any attempt to work is rendered useless when you hear the helicopters swing over your apartment again.
Let Saturday flow through you. Feel numb, let it lead you to believe that you are okay, unscathed from the events from the day before. Contact fellow teachers. Exhale when you notice the majority respond, so you feel maybe everyone is safe, though there is a death toll and the gunman entered the library and sprayed the room with bullets. Try not to think about whether your students were in there. Read through the reply-all emails from professors that flood your inbox. Professors who say they were there and who weren’t there, sharing that their students are scared to return to campus. Read how some students can’t stop hearing the screams. Write an email to remind your students that there are counseling services available to them if they need it because somehow counseling will heal this. It will fix that a former student burned his house down with the bodies of his father and brother filled with bullets inside and then headed to a college he had attended years earlier. Body counts are bigger when you target large unarmed groups.
Move into Sunday and attend an art opening on Washington Boulevard with your art husband and his art friends. See the parking lot with groups of people huddled together talking enthusiastically in small skinny legs, fair skin, fedora hats, mismatched clothing, an entire culture you feel tries to pretend not to care what anyone thinks yet works so hard to produce an image. Then feel sadness because those groups and their chatting remind you of your students, and you wonder if they’ll ever do that again.
Walk through the glass doors into a white room, artwork displayed on the walls. The mob takes up the space, not staring at the walls, but each other. Watch your husband disappear, something about getting a drink. Hear the voices reverberate through the acoustics and the heat of too many bodies. Take in short breaths. Feel your core convulse. Observe the room swallow you. Learn a minute too late that you’re not ready for normal.
Run down the street several blocks. Phone rings, don’t answer. Find an empty street with a row of one-story houses with manicured lawns and the canal at the end of the driveway. Walk to the end, find peace and cry. Recite the axioms:
He had an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a .48 1858 Remington model revolver.
He had forty 30-round magazines.
Take in what that means.
By the end of this period, the professor will
- pretend to feel normal
- observe an emergency preparedness session
- become illuminated
Get out of the bus and head north one block on 17th street passing the regent middle school where a group of students have a morning period of gym on the field. Think about your own middle school and how you didn’t have a background of mountains and palm trees like this one. Wonder if all those kids are thinking about leaving this place and how they felt when they were in lockdown.
Walk past the south entrance of the college. Remember how you recently saw this location in press photos. In the photos the campus police laid out a body covered in black clothing and a bulletproof vest. Later photos pixelated the image.
Walk a few feet into the campus square. Notice the two trees by the library have purple and yellow ribbons in the branches. Wonder if that had already been there before the shooting. Pick up the pace and stride past the poster board sign on your right, next to the garbage can. Look away from the rows of candles with painted saints and the plush bears and the balloons. Ignore the six cardboard hearts pasted to the poster board sign with names of the dead, including the shooter.
Enter the art complex and sit down in the large auditorium where police officers with college badges on their chests hand you a clipboard to sign in. This isn’t required for you as an adjunct. You want answers because when you went to visit your department chair a few weeks earlier concerning the fact that you can’t lock your classroom doors, she shrugged and said there was nothing you could really do if a shooter came to your building. You still feel horrified that, when you admitted your shock about the shootings to your department chair, a small woman with strawberry blonde hair and horse miniatures on her desk, she casually replied that she was surprised it hadn’t happened earlier with one of the international students. She mentioned Virginia Tech because the shooter was an international student. Follow the patterns.
In the auditorium, a large man with a deep soothing voice starts his introductions. PowerPoint glows in the background. Men in uniform mention the shooting from last summer. They have new emergency plans in place for employees to enact if your institution experiences another campus shooting. You think about your mother, who said on the phone that it already happened at your school and there was no way it would happen again. The lights dim. A video starts. On the projection screen, a muscular white man holding a black duffel bag casually walks through the glass doors of an office building. People in the office are talking, looking over papers together in crisp oxford shirts, women in business suits with skirts. The man pulls a large gun out of the duffel bag and screams erupt. Watch the actors fall to the ground with fake blood.
Listen to a narrator who explains the instructions. First: escape if you have a clear exit. Second: hide, lock the door, and turn off the lights. Third: if all else fails, fight with whatever you have to stop the assailant.
Exit the auditorium with interesting takeaways. One, you must lock your classroom doors and give your students a wastebasket to urinate in. Two, you must be quiet and you must calm down young men and women. Remind them how you calmed them down on the first day of class when you passed out a diagnostic essay. Finally, if you are injured and the SWAT team arrives, they will walk past you as you bleed out because their priority is to disarm the perpetrator(s). Only after they have accomplished that will they return to you for medical attention.
Walk past the paper shrine again. Notice a few students take out their smartphones and take a photo of the sad memorial. Grief is a spectacle.
Understand that, as an educator, you have to educate yourself on how to survive on the day someone snaps, opens the door, and brings enough guns and ammo for a one-sided battle. You have to educate yourself that while there aren’t any new stipulations in place for firearms, the new emergency response leads you to be collateral damage. You have to educate yourself that your profession is not as important as allowing citizens the right to bear arms.