Effects of Lockdown Drills on Students and Teachers
Most of us remember growing up with fire alarms and evacuation alarms. Today’s students face a more disturbing necessity. They regularly undergo lockdown drills. These drills have become a common occurrence in schools in the wake of deadly school shootings throughout the country. What makes Lockdown Drills In School Your Child’s Newest Nightmare?
A New Reality
Schools in Colorado were among the first to institute these drills. The state revamped its school safety measures after the 1999 Columbine shooting. Today, schools all over the country have instituted similar measures.
A school lockdown drill is specifically aimed at training teachers and students how to respond in the event of a shooting incident. Local law enforcement usually consults with school systems to develop the correct procedures.
Elements of a Lockdown Drill
Typically, a lockdown drill:
Is done at random times. Students and teachers might experience them during recess, during morning drop-offs or lunchtime.
Is highly specific. These drills differ from other drills aimed at protecting children and students in the case of fire or another emergency. A lockdown drill is aimed specifically at protecting them from an active school shooter.
Involves several steps. Most fire alarm and evacuation drills aim at getting children out of the building. A lockdown drill keeps teachers and students inside the building until law enforcement arrives.
What Happens During a School Lockdown Drill?
According to VeryWellFamily, a lockdown drill includes the following steps.
- Locking all the classroom doors.
- Covering all windows with shades and other covers.
- Having students and teachers move out of the line of sight.
- Turning off all the lights.
- Covering the door window.
- Alerting law enforcement.
- Looking for a possible escape route.
Law enforcement experts say that locking the doors is crucial, because the shooter will move on if he or she can’t get into the classroom.
Most of the drills are based on the law enforcement acronym ALICE. It stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
It’s possible that your school does not follow the part regarding looking for a possible escape route. Schools I’ve had experience with told teachers in no uncertain terms that they and their students were to remain locked in the classroom until different directions were issued.
How These Drills Affect Schools and Students
These drills are a fact of school life these days, but they can be highly upsetting for everyone involved.
Some teachers and students can treat them as just another break in the day’s routine like a fire drill. Others say they are much more frightening.
In 2018, the Washington Post investigated lockdown drills. The paper’s investigation found that over 4 million students had experienced an active shooter lockdown drill.
The paper found that students were crying, texting their parents to say goodbye, writing notes about who should get their toys and soiling themselves.
One teacher wrote on Twitter that, “As a preschool teacher, lockdown drills are a terrible fact of life. We try to keep it light for the kids but even 4-year-olds know we don’t practice cramming our class into the bathroom and staying silent for fun. It pains me to imagine the day it’s not just a drill.”
Both students and teachers can be frightened by drills that are too realistic. Some schools have used mock shooting or bombing attacks to make the drills seem real. But many safety experts say that those steps are unnecessarily traumatizing for everyone. You can read more about the part school and lockdown drills cause in teen depression here.
In March 2019, teachers at an Indiana school were physically injured and mentally tormented during an active shooter drill where they were “shot” execution-style with air guns.
During the drill, law enforcement agents playing the parts of shooters brought teachers into a room, made them lie down and shot them in the back of the head.
Music teacher Keith Gambill told BuzzFeed News that, “I was horrified when I learned that teachers were called into a room and this was done to them. I believe educators know and understand how horrific an active shooter event is. I don’t think we have to be so extreme in training individuals for this.”
Gambill probably summed up the way a lot of teachers feel. They don’t have to personally experience a stimulated shooting to know how terrifying a real shooting situation would be.
In conducting my own casual survey, I discovered that each of my colleagues had given this possibility a great deal of thought. They all had a plan B.
Many of them simply consisted of having a heavy object available in case an intruder tried to come through the door. Each individual’s plan called for putting him or herself in harm’s way. Student safety was their paramount concern.
Can We Make Drills Less Traumatic?
At the ACES Connection blog, Stephanie Kennelly writes that a lockdown causes traumatic responses in the body because it shuts down your “flight or fight” response. You aren’t given a choice to do either one in a threatening situation.
Kennelly said that classroom teachers should incorporate three steps when conducting a lockdown drill to ease that trauma:
1. Deep breathing. Have the students practice deep breathing when they’re in the huddle to help them relax.
2. Release. After the drill is over, give students an opportunity for physical release. If possible, let them run around outside. If that’s not possible, have them do a few minutes of calisthenics in the classroom.
3. Stay calm. Kennelly suggests that you pick up your classroom activities as calmly and smoothly as possible to reinforce the idea that this was just a temporary break in routine.
Advice from Teachers
A 2018 Scholastic magazine article offers tips for teachers to make the drills less traumatic. The article offers specific ideas for each grade group. Most of the teachers say they focus on:
- Being honest about the need for a drill without going into frightening details.
- Reassuring students that the teacher is there to protect them.
- Letting them know that the probability of a real event is low.
Can You Make Your School Lockdown Drill Safer?
These drills may be a grim reality of school life, but you can minimize their effects. If drills leave you emotionally overwhelmed, turn to your own sources of support. Talk with other teachers about ways to cope.
If your students are showing signs of distress, consider that the drills might be too frequent or too realistic. Talk to your administrators and school counselors about ways to mitigate the traumatic effects of these drills.
If lockdown drills are just one thing too many to add to your already hectic schedule, and you’ve decided to look for something outside the teaching field, take a look at my #1 recommendation.
It’s a great resource for learning how to promote yourself, your aspirations, and your special concerns and is the place where I have learned everything you see on this website.
Ready to Escape Your Classroom?