We knew it was coming that day. Fire drills and practice lockdowns are covertly scheduled on the teacher calendar as “Admin days” so that we know not to plan guest speakers or tests on those particular days. And since we’re in a cold climate, we do the fire drills one-two-three in the fall before the weather changes. That means that the remaining Admin Day is for a lockdown. So lockdown practice is no shock: the only question is which period will be disrupted. Since we’d made it to last period, we knew the answer to that, too.
My colleague Margie and I shared a prep period, so we had to decide where to spend the lockdown. The English office is in what used to be a photography suite. The front room where we have our desks looks ordinary enough, but there’s a regular rabbit’s warren of rooms attached to it: near the back, a little coat closet where we also store our DVD collection; off to one side, a large-ish half-empty room where we keep the printer, extra supplies and the shared Chromebooks; next to that, crowded with books, a refrigerator, a tiny desk and a phone, a mini room, and through the mini-room the former dark room, which now serves as a kitchen. We glanced around as the class bell sounded – the coat closet was too small, the printer room too bare, but the kitchen was just right: far from the door, dark, hard for anyone to access.
We set up quickly, dragging in two chairs, our laptops, and some grading. We made ourselves a cup of tea. After all, lockdowns can take a long time. The admin team goes door to door releasing everyone on all three floors of the school. Classrooms get released first, usually from the basement upwards; teachers’ offices on the second floor aren’t a high priority. Sure enough, a few minutes into our preparations, the PA blared about the lockdown and we went into the kitchen, closing the office door, the mini-room door, and the kitchen door behind us.
We settled in. First, we discussed when we should “get small.” Obviously we were supposed to turn off the lights and be silent for the whole time, but this seemed like overkill; we were three doors away from the hallway, snug in our cozy kitchen. We decided to turn the lights off but chatted amiably in the darkness – her family, my family, our classes, plans for the upcoming break. After a nice long conversation, we realized that we would probably be released soon, so we stopped talking in case an administrator came in. We knew that we shouldn’t have our laptops out but, we chuckled, “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and opened them up. For a while we worked away in companionable silence. Finally, one of us suggested that since we were already breaking one rule, and since we really were very well hidden, we could probably get away with turning on the light so we could grade. We would keep our ears open and snap the light off before an administrator came in. So we started to grade.
We are English teachers. We had a lot to grade.
I finished up my tea and thought about making another. It was nearly silent all around us. This has been an incredibly productive lockdown, I thought, just as I registered my previous thought. “Nearly silent.” NEARLY? Wait a second. I looked at Margie.
“Did you hear a toilet flush?”
“Yes. We’re right next to the girls’ bathroom,” she replied nonchalantly, focused on a creative writing piece.
Wait…Wait… She looked up. “Wait a second. Who’s flushing the toilet during a lockdown?”
My eyes darted around the room. “How long have we been in here? Does it seem like a long time?” I checked my watch. I nearly shrieked, “Margie! We’ve been in here for nearly an hour!”
“But no one has come! There was no-end-of-lockdown announcement. We would have heard.”
“But I heard the toilet flush.”
We looked at each other in complete confusion. “What should we do?”
We slowly turned the handle on the kitchen door. The mini room was still dark, the door still closed, but light seeped through the crack at the bottom. Surely we had turned off the office light? I crept out of the kitchen and reached for the phone. Quick as I could, I dialed the secretary: “Cindy? It’s Amanda,” I whispered, “Is the lockdown over? Margie and I are hiding in the English kitchen.”
At first there was dumbfounded silence. Then hysterical laughter. When Cindy caught her breath, we learned that the lockdown had ended about 40 minutes earlier. Our new vice principal didn’t know about the crazy English office layout. She checked the main room then moved on. And there’s no PA in the back rooms, so we missed the announcement, too. We just hung out in the kitchen and graded right through it all, uninterrupted by the normal hurly burly of the high school. The VP apologized over and over; the principal stopped by to apologize, too. Our colleagues were vaguely horrified: “You were stuck in there for an hour? Oh, how awful!” Margie and I tried to be graceful, to look appropriately put out, to pretend that we had been bored or worried, but really, that was the best – and only – productive lockdown I’ve ever experienced.
Slice of Life, Day 19, March 2018
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month of inspiration.