The AV system is still on, showing a YouTube video of the Vietnam Draft lottery from 1969. Slips of paper pulled from a bowl. A series of unlucky birthdays. You ask the students: do you hear your birthday? “Raise your hand if you get drafted.”
The PA system interrupts your class yet again. Do you: A. Continue teaching or B. Pull out the black construction paper, the pieces you keep on the shelf, and tape over classroom door’s thin sliver of a window?
When the students line up, some of them bring their backpacks. They can be tripping hazards. They can also be shields. Should you tell them to leave all their belongings at their desks?
Kileigh and Eric, who have been either arguing or flirting all year, are standing too close together and begin to either argue or flirt, their voices carrying. Do you: A. Remind them to be quiet or B. Talk softly to Veronica R., the only Freshman in the class, who says she wants to get her phone to call her mom?
Do you tell them this is just a drill? But you did not get an email about a drill.
“Missus? Did you remember to lock the door?”
Michael and Xavier, who usually sit in the middle of the classroom and steal answers from the quiet girls in the back, say that they would just tackle anyone who comes through the door. Michael is on the football team, has a frame so large a chair once broke beneath him. “Why are you worried?” he whispers to a clutch of girls. “I can take him.”
Someone at the other end of the line whispers that it’s sexist to assume anyone prowling the halls of the school with a gun would be a man, and Michael says that, statistically, it’s probably a dude. Probably a white dude. Probably a white dude who’s out to kill someone he’s got a beef with, probably—
A bang from down the hall. Half the students scream, half the students tell the other half to shut the fuck up. The draft lottery drones on. Do you: A. Double-check the lock on the door or B. Urge the students to pack in tighter together?
You are twenty-five years old. Does a captain who doesn’t know they’re a captain still have to go down with the ship?
Veronica R. is crying loudly. You have not touched a student all year, not even a high-five, not a pat on the back, worried about viruses and impropriety. Do you hug her now? Do you ask one of her classmates to hug her? Her tears are setting off some of the other students. You’ve forgotten, in the decade since you’ve been fifteen, how devastating it is to watch a teenage boy cry.
“Why are you crying?” Neveah demands. “It’s just a drill.”
The doorknob rattles and this time everyone jumps but no one screams out loud. Some students stuff hands into their mouths.
“Missus? Should we hide in the closet?”
There is a closet in the room. There are cabinets that line the walls. They used to store the band’s instruments in here. Some of the girls can’t be any bigger than a tuba. How do you decide who gets to hide in the closet, and who has to stay out in the open classroom? Do you pick birthdays out of a hat?
Eric gives Veronica R. his phone and you think about your dad, who tells you to “be safe” every time he hangs up the phone. Do you A. Text him or B. Walk down the line of your students, putting a hand on their shoulders or wrists and you count them again and again?
If there was a big enough window in the classroom, would you jump out of it?
The video stops and, with it, all the sound in the room. There are twenty-four pairs of eyes on you. For once, no one is saying a word. What do you tell them?
Katie Avagliano teaches in America’s public schools. She lives with her dog in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.
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