There’s an Intruder in my Classroom

Lockdown, Lockdown, Lockdown suddenly rings out over the loudspeaker, and I immediately stop teaching and navigate through the maze of desks to lock my classroom door and initiate the other lockdown procedures to secure my classroom and students. “Is this real? Please let this not be real,” Rings through my head as I try to keep the 30 2nd graders in my classroom calm and quiet as we sit in silence waiting for the all-clear announcement to ring out over the loudspeaker.

I am sure that every educator here has been through lockdown drills, and thinks something along those lines when we need to secure our classrooms. After listening to the 3P’s in a Pod episodes, Where School Safety Policy and Practice Collide (Parts 1 and 2), I felt the need to share a lockdown experience I had.

It all happened on the “late night” of Parent Teacher Conferences. One night during conference week, my district designates the “late night” where teachers are required to stay at school until 8:00 to meet with parents. Usually, this is the day where families with multiple students at school schedule all their conferences so they can get them knocked out all at once. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I hate the late night. It is a long, tiring day, and it makes the following school day difficult as I recover from the exhaustion of working a 13 hour day.

On the “late nights”, I try to schedule meaningful, but easy learning activities to conserve my energy for meeting with parents later. I want to look professional, instead of looking like a zombie who has been stuck inside my classroom for way too long. This particular day worked out perfectly, and my students were doing group presentations after our month long research unit on bats. The presentations were structured in an “Inside Outside Circle” format so multiple presentations were going on at once. I was walking around the room listening to the different groups present their information. I happened to be at the back of the room with the classroom door in clear view, so I saw the exact moment the intruder walked into my classroom.

Now, it was not clear this was an intruder right away. At the time, I was coaching cheerleading and the intruder looked like one of the parents of the cheerleaders who I had met only once several weeks prior. I approach the intruder, who is looking around my classroom eagerly, and ask if I can help him. I notice that he does not have a visitors badge on, which is a red flag, and immediately puts me on alert. Why is this strange man in my classroom?

To summarize what happened next, I tell him to go to the office to obtain a visitors badge, which is the school policy for visitors on campus. He tried to avoid leaving by saying there was anyone in the front office, so I tell him I would call the office to let them know he was on his way there so they could assist him with getting a visitors badge. He leaves my classroom, and I call the office. I ask if there is supposed to be someone walking around campus today, and tell them that there is a strange man in my room. The office staff told me that there is not anyone walking around looking at rooms today, so I hang up and go lock my door. A lockdown was called by the time I got to my door.

That would be the cliff notes version of the story. The version I tell in person is much more dramatic, although this was not a truly dramatic event since this was a “mockdown” instead of a “lockdown”.

What in the world is a “mockdown” drill?

A mockdown is a drill to simulate a real lockdown. A fake intruder comes on campus and goes into classrooms to find out where the weak security areas are, and to test the teacher’s responses to intruders. I found out about mockdown drills by accident a couple of years prior to this, and I am glad I knew about these drills before I experienced one because it would have been much harder to keep my cool and not freak out in front of my students. According to the district, I passed the drill and handled it the way I was supposed to.

While I was happy that I handled things accordingly, I was not happy that I had an intruder in my classroom. I was anxious and on edge the rest of the day, which happened to go until 8:00 that night, and struggled to teach my students and conference effectively with parents. I could not keep my eyes off the classroom door, even though I kept it locked the remainder of the day.

I understand wanting to test security at school to make sure that we are prepared in the event of a real lockdown or emergency. However, I struggle to decide if it is right to do these drills with students present. I teach 2nd graders and worry about how they could be traumatized by unfamiliar people walking into their classroom and behaving strangely. In this case, I do not think my students noticed the intruder since they were busy giving their group presentations and I happened to be by the door and intercepted the intruder quickly. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if this happened during direct instruction with my students sitting at their desks. How would they have reacted while the intruder was in my classroom? After he left? The rest of the day? The rest of the school year?

School safety is such a hot topic given the number of school shootings that have occurred in recent years, and I cannot help but wonder why we are scaring our students with intruders in their classrooms to “keep them safe at school”.


Caitlin Gawlowski

I was born to be a teacher, although I did not realize that teaching was my calling until I began college. I have always loved to write and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before I began my freshman year of college, I changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and have never looked back. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during my student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District.
I spent 7 years in the Washington Elementary School District teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and I hold a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2019-2020 school year marks the beginning of my 8th year teaching, where I will be teaching 3rd grade English Language Learners, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification.
If I am lucky enough to have free time, you can find me planning my wedding, spending time with my infant son and fiancé, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

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