Whenever I'm going to teach in a new classroom, I like to scout it out ahead of time. I want to know if it has a chalkboard or a whiteboard so I can bring the right writing implements. I want to make sure it has enough seats for my class because the classroom capacity according to the registrar and the number of chairs actually present in the room may be quite different. I want to get a sense of the room: find out if it has chair desks or tables, whether late arrivals will disrupt class from the front or sneak in the back, and what the projector situation is. I also like to know that I can just plain find the room! If I can, I go inside and just stand in the front, getting used to the size of the space and the arrangement of the chairs. I like to do this for public speaking, too – I can get over whatever anxiety the foreignness of the room might give me and be more at ease in the now-familiar space when the time comes to talk.
Last week I wandered around campus getting to know the buildings and tracking down the classrooms I'm scheduled to teach in. But I didn't just count the chairs, or decide whether I'll need chalk or dry erase markers. I noted which rooms had furniture that could be piled against the door, which way the doors opened, which rooms had windows into the hallway, and which exits to use if I had to protect my students from a gunman.
I didn't used to run these scenarios in my mind. A year ago, at MSU, I received active shooter response training. A week after training last August, I didn't give it much thought any more, but last week, when I did my usual check-out-the-classroom routine, there it was again in my mind. It's scary that shootings are common enough in the U.S. to necessitate training, but it's training I'm glad I have.
I have had a lot of safety training over the years: chemistry lab safety, radiation safety, biosafety, first aid, and even some basic first-response training as part of a Red Cross course as a teenager. No other training in my experience has put such emphasis on the word "survive." And survival in such a situation, as in any emergency, depends on preparedness. So I prepare: I find out if a classroom can be barricaded, if a door can be locked from the inside, if another exit is available, if windows can be covered to hide students sheltering in place.
I make my plans and deeply, fervently hope I never need them.
I want to be clear that what I've written above is not a judgement of campus safety at either Misericordia or Michigan State. I don't expect to put my training into practice, but I'm grateful to the MSU Campus Police officers who led the training.