'I hope this isn't the day I'll have to use this': Teacher gets real about carrying a 'lockdown key'

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In the aftermath of America’s latest deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., one teacher is sharing a personal account of how it feels to carry a “lockdown key.”

In a compelling Instagram post, and a subsequent first-person story on the website ScaryMommy, teacher Victoria Fedden opened up about the responsibility of holding a key that locks any door at her school.

“My keychain is heavy. It holds the keys to three separate classrooms, and a technology cabinet filled with expensive gadgets that help make my lessons more fun and entertaining. The largest key on the ring is my lockdown key,” she wrote on ScaryMommy. “It’s held onto the keychain with a conspicuous red loop. That makes it visible, so if the unthinkable were to happen I wouldn’t be fumbling around looking for it, wasting valuable seconds that could mean lives saved — children’s lives saved.”

Teaching composition classes at a small college near her Fort Lauderdale home, Fedden admits it’s her dream job. The small college where Fedden teaches is roughly five miles from the high school where the shooting that killed 17 people took place last Wednesday.

“I have friends who went to that school too, friends who live nearby, friends with relatives who teach there, and children who go there. I once coveted a full-time teaching position at Douglas. It’s a great place to work, in a beautiful, strong community,” she wrote.

Fedden explained that she carries a “lockdown key” that has the ability to lock any door in the entire school. The key is constantly at the back of her mind, even while walking the halls of the school and during her morning commute. As a teacher who denies being a risk taker, she said she has to muster up confidence to go to work each day.

“I never imagined that my job would carry with it the same risks that face police, first responders, and soldiers. We educators sometimes call ourselves warriors, but we mean that metaphorically. We used to anyway,” Fedden said. “Somehow things got literal, and now we’re dragging bodies. We’re plotting escape routes, and putting ourselves in the line of fire … Junot Diaz and Amy Tan are a much better use of our class period than figuring out a contingency plan in the event of mass murder.”

After going over her safety plan in the event of a mass shooting, Fedden touches on what it means to be a teacher and a parent.

“I’d do this because I am good at loving other people’s children. That’s what teachers do, because we understand from a deep place sweet in the soul, that there’s no your children and my children. These young spirits belong to all of us, and we have got to protect them,” she wrote. “My worry is double, because I’m not only a teacher. I’m also a parent. Before I head up to my campus, I drop my daughter off at hers. I walk her all the way to the door each morning, and it’s become a habit to kiss her extra, to squeeze her one more time, to turn and look back at her freckled face once more before I go, because … who knows? It could be her school next time.”

“Or it could be mine.”

Fedden also discusses other teachers’ tactics for their emergency plan. Some teachers keep lollipops on their desk because it’s easier to keep children quiet in a utility closet that way. She also said every teacher she knows has practiced what to do at the first ring of gun shot.

Despite the statistics around mass shootings, Fedden says she’s never reconsidered becoming a teacher. The opposite, actually. Regardless of how scared she is, Fedden believes teaching impressionable minds is more important than any fear she feels inside.

“Teaching is my calling, and I’m not going to abandon my life’s work because I’m scared … I will keep speaking my truth. I will continue  teaching our young adults how to speak their truths too, and I will do my very best to keep them safe while I do it,” she wrote.

“In my freshman composition classes, I tell my students to use their words only for the highest good. Our words aren’t for bullying, for tearing down, or for engaging in petty, online arguments. Language is a gift that we must use to build up and create. In my class, we use our words to tell our stories, to share our experiences, and to critically examine the world we live in so that we can make it better. Words should illuminate harsh realities, and words can rally,” she wrote. “This is my harsh reality: I shouldn’t have to be this scared to teach young people how to write essays, and they shouldn’t have to be terrified to sit in a classroom.”

“My hope is that since we haven’t fixed this, if I can teach them well, then maybe one day they will succeed where we have failed them.”

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