It was my first day teaching the pathway program at my school. I’d worked hard in the general ESL program as a rookie, and I’d been promoted to the big leagues. I was feeling good. Teaching pathways meant a new office, a different boss and added responsibility. Students had to pass my course in order to get into university or college. I would be playing a crucial role in my 19 students’ lives.
Teaching this program meant a new location for the summer too. We’d been outsourced. Our school was too small for the increased amount of students that enrolled from June-August, so they’d rented out classrooms at the University of Leafton, downtown. Although I wasn’t teaching for the university, I was still using their campus, their blackboards, their chalk. It felt like quite an accomplishment.
The first thing I did was go through standard first day introductions. I could tell right away, I was going to have some characters in my class. There was Mariela, the punk rock Brazilian girl with platinum blond hair, who was taking the program to get into film school. Mila, the 18 year old Korean girl who spoke in such a low tone, I could barely hear her. She wanted to study baking. The couple, Francesca and Gianluca from Brazil who requested to be in all groups together because they were sharing a laptop. There was Adam, from China trying to get into a competitive master’s business program. 20 year old Josiah who was going to go to university to major in theatre. Byung Soo, the older Korean gentleman with years of work experience in his field of data analytics. And so many more. It was hard to keep track of them all.
“Okay, so let’s move on to our first reading for the day. For this week, we’re going to be focusing on unemployment, and the causes of unemployment,” I explained moving to the board to start a quick brainstorming preactivity. “What are some causes of unemployment you can think of?”
“Teacher,” Josiah said with a tone that suggested he hadn’t heard my question. “Did you hear about the shooting in Florida last night? At Pulse?”
I nodded solemnly. “Yeah, it was just terrible.”
“It was because they’re gay,” Josiah commented. “Imagine hating people so much to kill them?”
“I hate gay people,” Byung Soo injected, and the whole room was sucked of air. I started to panic, but he went on, “before. I hate gay people before. In Korea, I don’t know gay people. But I come to Canada, and now some of my best friends are gay. I love gay people now.”
I let out my breath and smiled. Mariela added, “but that kind of stuff happens every day in the United States. To gay people, straight people, children in schools. Too many guns. Too many crazy people.”
“Does it happen in Canada too?” Adam asked me.
“It has,” I admitted and flinched as I saw fear creep into Mila’s face in the front row. “It’s not as common, but there have been mass shootings in Canada before. People have guns in Canada too, and there are bad people in every country.”
Most of my students nodded to agree with me, so I segued back to my board. “Another thing that happens in every country is unemployment..”
We got about halfway through the lesson when my manager Marsha materialized at my door, startling me. Her face was tight as she motioned for me to go join her. I was only about 45 minutes into my class, was I in trouble already somehow?
In the hallway, she showed me a print out of an email that had been sent to the admin of the building. It read, “UNIVERSITY OF LEAFTON IS NOW UNDER TOTAL LOCKDOWN. NO IN OR OUT PRIVILEGES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”
“What!? Why?” I wondered.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Do you have your phone on you? I left mine in the office, and I want to call my parents to tell them I’m okay, in case this makes the news.”
I let Marsha use my phone as I paced the hallway wondering what to do. I’d read the unemployment article four times last night, but I hadn’t once considered what I would do if the university would go on unexpected lockdown. I’d only experienced a lockdown once before in my life, in my high school, when a nearby convenience store had been robbed at gunpoint. We’d had to turn off all the lights, go into the nearest classroom and hide under the desks.
“Should I get the class to go under the desks?” I asked Marsha.
She looked at me like I was nuts. “No, I don’t think so. Just try to keep them calm, and try to limit students in the hallway, except for bathroom breaks.”
When I returned to the room, my students could tell by my altered demeanor that something was wrong. I was spooked, but I was trying hard not to pass it on to my students. I tried to keep it breezy. “So guys, I just found out that UofL is on lockdown, meaning we have to stay out of the hallways unless it’s necessary, and no one can enter or leave the building.”
19 phones whipped out from pockets and purses and backpacks. Within seconds Gianluca was telling us, “Someone saw a person with a gun leave the subway onto the UofL campus, so they locked down all the buildings.”
“Okay,” I forced a smile. “UofL is a huge campus, so it’s just precautionary. Nothing to worry about.”
“Teacher look!” Francesca said running to the window. The rest of us swarmed on either side of her. A line of uniformed police officers touting guns marched past the building. I’d never seen anything like it before. They bore such a stark contrast to the sun-bathed greenery around them, the butterflies in the sky.
“Another Pulse,” Mariela mused.
Behind me, I just barely heard Mila mutter something under her breath. Automatically, I recited our English school’s cardinal rule. “English only, please.”
“She said she don’t want to die,” Byung Soo informed me.
“Nobody is dying!” I exclaimed, suddenly remembering that my job was to keep the class calm. I had a responsibility to them. “Let’s just get away from the windows and form a circle at the center of the room.”
Luckily, the room was huge, it could fit about 50 students, so we had plenty of left over space and furniture. I tried to be rational, “I bet everyone in the city is just on high alert because of what happened at Pulse last night. They’re just trying to keep us safe, but that doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily in danger.”
“Or it’s a copycat murderer,” Josiah suggested. “They liked what they saw yesterday, and they want to do the same thing.”
“I don’t think so…” I replied glancing quickly at Mila. She looked like she might faint. “It’s not likely. Do you guys want to move some of the extra chairs against the door just to be safe?”
They agreed so we began arranging the chairs in a way to block people coming in, but so that it was easy to get out if we needed the bathroom. It was a good project to distract idle minds. I knew trying to get them to discuss unemployment at this point would be a losing battle, and we had to do something.
I had my back turned to the room when I heard the loud thud. Mila’s scream ripped through the air. I flipped around and Josiah was at the back of the class, on the floor. I froze trying to determine whether he was conscious. Mariela ran to him.
As Josiah slowly rose back to his feet, he had his hand pressed against the side of his head. He slowly pulled it away to reveal a thick trail of blood that then poured down his face. I leapt toward him alarmed, checking to see that the windows were still closed, that the rest of the students were all okay. There was no time to think of anything else. No time to figure out what happened.
“Josiah, are you okay?!”
To my relief, he began to laugh. A collective sigh rippled through the tense room. Finally, Josiah explained, “I hit my head on these hooks! I bent down to pick up my pen that rolled back here and I hit my head when I stood back up. Why are there hooks in a university classroom?”
“I guess for winter coats,” I shrugged, my voice cracking, just noticing the coat hooks along the back wall for the first time. I couldn’t be more grateful that they weren’t a gunman.