Fire drills always unnerve me. One time, our dean asked me to stand in one of the streets, a standard procedure for fire drills as we escort students to about a one-block radius from the school in case of emergency. As the teachers escort the kids to their designated spots, a black SUV with a rather angry disposition pulls up within a feet of my knees and waits patiently for this drill to end. I stood my ground, waiting for all the students to cross the streets and holding my “Fire Drill” sign in a choke hold. The kids crossed the street, and the SUV grew more impatient, inching closer to my less-than-superhuman legs. My throat tightened up. The man kept yelling about having to get to work. I thought how the man could have just gotten to work early like everyone else and not at 9:30am. None of this mattered. My silence held clenched abs tight against what I felt might have gotten really ugly really quickly. The dean and my supervisor talked the man in the SUV down, and not a second too soon as I could feel the heat careening off the bumper could have steam-ironed my pants. The man cursed us all out as he let his engine growl while I stood my ground. The dean had waved the students back, but I couldn’t move until all the classes got back in the building. Every 30 seconds felt like an hour. When I heard the dean wave the teachers off, I took two steps back and felt the whoosh of this Escalade push me back a few steps further.
A quarter of the school saw this. Respect earned.
More importantly, it became my metaphor for the way I see my students in the classroom. Today, my dean gave me a less ominous corner, and the humdrum of this fire drill procedure came back. Because of the drill, I lost about 10 minutes of class time with my students, speeding up my lesson to a rush. Walking into class, I felt the chit-chatter I knew would come with the disjoint in our routine for the day. I waited until the din came to a standstill. When we started the lesson, one of my students decided to do small, semi-disruptive things in the class consistently, and it pushed me to remember the things I knew about him. Suddenly, I saw a child in need of help, who always came into my class and only had success about half the time, who just wanted a place to feel comfortable.
I asked someone who knew his situation a little better, and he confirmed my beliefs. My percent lesson had no chance of reaching him on a day like this. In my mind, I decided to set off the fire alarm when I saw it. Not because the fire was ready to burn the building, but because I saw smoke.
If I stand there and wait, this dangerous vehicle might come to a complete stop.
Mr. Vilson, who’s been on a roll with his class …