I supervise several school libraries that serve students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. On a fine autumn day in the 2016-17 school year, I was in an elementary school. First-graders were in the library when an alarm sounded.

We were going into “teach in place” mode. That meant everyone needed to stay where they were. According to district policy, all classroom doors should already have been locked.

Did we start doing these drills after the 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut? I know I haven’t been doing them very long (from a veteran educator’s perspective) and I still haven’t gotten over the fear and dread that washes over me when an alarm sounds. So far, they have all been drills. They have all felt like they could be the real thing.

But I am very glad we do them.

The shootings two weeks ago in Parkland, Florida, have rattled educators to the core. We just want to teach. We don’t want to be constantly vigilant. On the other hand, we want our students to stay alive. We want to stay alive.

I, for one, want to be prepared. And the only way I can do that is to think about the awful possibilities, as much as it wrenches my stomach.

All mass shootings are unspeakable tragedies, but incidents at schools are in their own category. If you are at an outdoor entertainment venue, such as the Las Vegas concert, you can run for your life without compunction. Teachers have an obligation (though we would not call it that) to care for our students. Does that mean we must throw ourselves between them and a shooter? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone wants to try to answer that question. But it’s thoughts like those that keep me up at night.

This is how I see what I need to do: Remain calm and follow protocol. In the case of a full lockdown, the latter means closing already-locked doors, shutting off the lights and assuming hiding places. Silencing cellphones. Waiting in the dark and quiet until (hopefully — we don’t always know it’s a drill) the all-clear sounds. Just writing about it terrifies me.

As I sat with the first-graders during the in-place incident, I felt a sense of foreboding. I didn’t know at the time that it was a drill. The students were very good — they didn’t understand what was going on. We were on the second floor and I didn’t hear anything unusual, but my overactive imagination conceived several horrific scenarios. My relief when we were released was huge.

My colleagues and I have talked about what we would do if the unthinkable happens. I have done active-shooter training, and the police advised us to throw things as a last resort. Libraries, we have come to realize, provide many options. Carts full of books can be shoved in front of doors. Books and laptops can be hurled. Sturdy bookshelves, depending on where they are located, can be used as barriers. I can see how a tall TV or projector cart, given a good push, could disrupt a shooter. And that’s the point — confusion, not hand-to-hand combat.

It isn’t easy to think, talk or write about this. I don’t think I have a choice.

There is much conversation right now about arming teachers. I could not accept a requirement that teachers carry firearms. I probably would have to move to Canada if any such law came to pass.

But right now, I am ambivalent about a law that would give qualified teachers a choice. I have colleagues who I know would be willing to be armed, and, truth be told, I would feel safer knowing they were armed while in the building. But I need to think more about it.

Right now, I am angry that the children of this nation are at such risk. I am afraid, too. But I won’t let my fears overwhelm me. I’m looking at all this straight on, as though I am staring down the barrel of a gun.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

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