You walk into the classroom one day and there is a student under a desk clenching his backpack. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? How do you ensure the safety of other students in the room while addressing this situation? Similar scenarios have been in training seminars at campuses across the country. I’ve thought about this scenario. Have you?
Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you teach at institutions where students would never engage in this type of behavior or maybe you’ve told yourself that dangerous situations, like a school shooting, don’t happen where you teach.
This week, I finished reading Think No Evil, a book that summarizes the events of the Amish school shooting in 2006. I am 100% sure that the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA were convinced that school shootings would not impact their lives. However, a school shooter entered a small, one room school house and shot 10 girls before killing himself.
Tragic events like this can happen! To you, to me, to any of us! So what’s your plan?
My Department or School Hasn’t Trained Me
I have talked to faculty across the nation, both full time and adjunct, who have report that their college or university has not developed an official plan or have not formally communicated the plan for an active shooter or threat to campus. Every person I’ve ever talked to finds this problematic and a major concern. I agree! In fact, I think every department and school should take the time to discuss this issue. We are well-educated and capable people, who care about our own safety and our students’ safety. So don’t wait for your campus, if they have not release an official plan, develop one for yourself!
In some cases, training may be a one time push, so ask your department chair or human resources department if there is an official policy or training program offered. If there is then take advantage of it, because it can be a wonderful learning opportunity. If there is not a program and you are passionate about this topic, you can ask your human resources department if there is an opportunity to collaborate to create a safety plan for the campus as well as a training opportunity for those who work on the campus. Students should also be informed and taught what they should do.
Make a Plan
One day over lunch, a colleague and I discussed our plans, how we would help to increase student safety in the event of an emergency on campus, where we would meet, etc. If you haven’t had this conversation yet…you need to! Even if you only teach one class, you should know what you would do in case of an emergency. If it’s not a life-threatening emergency you should have an idea of how you might handle the situation. There are several websites that can help you think about the steps you might take! Before writing this post I Googled “plan for active shooter” and there are a lot of helpful websites including the Department of Homeland Security. Google this for yourself and consider your campus layout. Where can you and your students go?
It is important to consider a variety of situations that you may encounter. There may be a fire. You may have a student who is threatening to harm him/herself. You may have a hostile student in your classroom that does not have a weapon but is being a disruption. You may have a student who threatens you, due to a grade he/she received. Or The student in the example above may be suffering from mental illness or he may be protecting an illegal substance, or hiding a gun or another weapon. Preparation is the key. Just like you would not enter the classroom unprepared to teach, you should not enter the classroom unprepared to deal with situations that may arise.
Emergency Contact Numbers
Before the semester begins, obtain phone numbers for public safety as well as the counseling center. Store these numbers in your cell phone so that they are easy to access if an emergency occurs. You may find that you never need to use them, but in the event you do, it is better to be prepared.
If you are concerned about a student, how can you go about reporting the concern? Who do you report them to? What is the protocol on your campus?
You are a mandated reporter. If a student appears to be in distress, report! If a student shares information with you that you find concerning, report! If a student threatens to harm him/herself, report! If a student threatens to harm someone else, report! It is better to err on the side of caution. A student’s safety is your top priority; therefore, nothing should prevent you from reporting concerning behavior. In order to report, you must know who to report to and how to go about doing so. Therefore, it is important to ask how to file this type of concern. You may ask a faculty mentor, an administrator, or contact the health center or counseling center to find out.
Preparation is the Key!
So, again I ask, what would you do if face with the scenario above? Would you leave student inside while you left the classroom to call for help? Would you try to evacuate the other students? Would you just simply leave…every man/woman for themselves?
Making a plan prior to an incident allows you to think more critically about how you would handle the situation. Most likely, you will be highly impacted by the stressfulness of the situation. This may impair your ability to think clearly which is obviously necessary in this type of situation. The way that you respond will make all the difference. So develop your plan now!
When I started teaching, family and friends asked me if I was afraid. I had no idea what they were talking about! But from their perspectives, teaching had become a field where faculty, students, and staff could be at risk of attack. I rarely think about what could happen, but I do have a personal plan, in addition to the plan offered by my university. So I encourage you to think about and talk about what you would do! Ask other faculty and staff that you know if they have a plan. Talk to people outside of higher education, who have experience in these situations. They are trained to think about these scenarios and may have some sound advice to provide. Or conduct your own research to learn more.