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Safety Tips for Classrooms and School Libraries

While I was researching THIS IS NOT A DRILL, I found that there were a number of safety tips no one had ever told me while I was in the classroom. Some of them were common sense, things most people would do if an intruder entered the buiding, but some of them were less obvious. I decided to put together a list for teachers and librarians, so I'm posting it here:

Safety in the Classroom or School Library

 1.Pay attention to student comments. Alert the principal and security officers of any rumors of weapons or impending fights.

 2.Leave doors open and windows uncovered so that hall passersby can observe a developing situation inside the room, especially if you teach students who may have anger issues or could be considered volatile.

 3.Close the door if there is gunfire or threat of an intruder. Lock or barricade it with table and chairs.

 4.Instruct students to remain in the restroom or other classroom if danger erupts – or if they’re in the hall to move quickly to the nearest classroom.

 5.Remain calm. Students take their cues from you. Your ability to hide fear can set the tone.

 6.If someone has a gun, inform him in a matter-or-fact tone that you are sending the other students to a nearby teacher’s room (or library, etc.) so that you can talk with him about the problem. If he agrees or doesn’t answer, have them leave their things and move out of the room quickly and silently. If he refuses, instruct students to be seated and quiet.

 7.Sit at your desk to show you’re calm - and to place distance between yourself and the armed person. Don’t move between him and the exit. Don’t try to stop a fleeing student. Alert the principal if he leaves room. 

 8.Tell the person you will not approach or confront him. Ask him politely to point the gun away from you while you talk. Use a quiet, calm voice and non-threatening actions. Don’t take anything he says personally; respond in a professional manner. Clear your mind of any assumptions about the person and treat him as you’d like to be treated if you became unstable

 9.If you or your students become hostages, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be empathetic. Say that you’ll help in any way you can. Just try to slow things down until professional help arrives. Statistically, most hostage situations are resolved without violence, so time is on your side.

10.If shooting erupts, drop to the floor and tell your students to do so also. When police officers arrive, listen for commands, obey instructions, and stay out of their way


(I hope you never need them, but it seemed like a good thing to think about - in the same way we plan for a fire or tornado at school, even though they are unlikely occurrences.) 



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Posted in November, 2012


A Great Week with My Teacher Tribe

NCTE/ALAN 2012 in Vegas, Baby!

I LOVE being an author, but I’ll ALWAYS have a teacher’s heart, so traveling to Vegas to do a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English was a long anticipated event.  Any time I’m around teachers, I feel like I’m home, and this group proved to be my “tribe” in so many ways.


First, I’d only met my presentation group online, so getting to know them in person was AMAZING! I actually met our fearless leader, Kelle Moye, an amazing “ideas” person, organizer, and dedicated reading teacher of very lucky middle schoolers, in the elevator, then had breakfast next morning with the rest of my articulate and uber-competent group: Gordon Hultberg, Lynne Eichel, Kellee Moye, Jennifer Fountain, and Katherine Sokolowski.



I'm pretty sure there’s not a person on the planet who cares more about books, kids, and the perfect matching of the two than these folks. If you’re a teacher, parent, or reader, you'll learn something new every single day if you follow and


Our presentation, Igniting the Love of Reading in Your Struggling Readers, was held in a basement room at the end of a maze of stairs and hallways so complicated, we were sure NO ONE would find us. But when the doors opened and teachers started pouring in, we found ourselves with a full house – complete with extra chairs brought in and people sitting on the floor along every wall. 



It was such a great feeling to see so many eager faces and open minds - educators who wanted to know MORE about the creative ways these master teachers are enticing kids to love reading. 


Another highlight of the week was the Nerdy Book Club party, where I got to talk with so many teachers and authors, including Kellee’s blog partner - the effervescent Jen Vincent, the three Nerdy Book Club founders: Donalyn Miller - author of The Book Whisperer (every teacher needs this!), Colby Sharp - star of the so-much-fun video “I Love Books,” and Cindy Minnich - talented computer guru for the group, and with my Twitter buddy, "John360," who made a special trip back to the exhibit hall right before it closed so I could sign his book (sweet). It was a night of great food, company, and fun – made even better with my Alabama author buddy Irene Latham there.  I also loved chatting with authors Jenni Holm and Lindsey Leavitt, and great impromptu entertainment was provided by Jonathan Auxier, author of Peter Nimble, yo-yo master, and engaging storyteller.



NCTE was another reminder that I’m so fortunate to be a part of the wonderful Penguin team. It was also my first chance to meet the amazing staffers who support THIS IS NOT A DRILL with their tireless energy and infectious enthusiasm. The amazing Scottie Bowditch, Penguin School & Library Marketing Director, remembers everyone and knows everything about Penguin books, wonderful Laura Antonacci planned our fabulous Penguin dinner party and arranged my schedule for two booth signings, awesome Kathryn Bhirud helped me at my presentation with publicity material, adorable Bridget Ryan was a powerful Midge-force for book sales in our booth, and the ever-efficient Mary Raymond helped me figure out where I was supposed to be. Our dinner at Fixe at the Bellagio was delicious and memorable – and what amazing company! We also celebrated author Ruta Sepetys' birthday (below with Scottie.)



Kellee and Katherine and I chatted with super-smart Ruta and authors Paul Griffin and Joan Bauer (love her books!) and charming editor Kendra Levin. Paul is quite possibly the nicest guy in the business and most definitely the best listener. Authors seated at the other table were Jon Scieszka, Marie Lu, Kristin Cashore, Beth Revis, Kathleen Krull, and T.A. Barron, so I got to meet a lot of my colleagues for the first time – so exciting! 


Joan Kaywell was the very first person I met in Vegas (on the airport shuttle) and she and I kept crossing paths until it almost became funny. What a great conference buddy to have; she's a former president of ALAN and was this year's recipient of the prestigious Ted Hipple award for her many contributions to young adult literature. She is a dynomo, for sure.



One of the biggest thrills for me at the conference was sitting in on a Round Table discussion led by the amazing Liz Hester Schults featuring Matt de la Pena and his work. Such a rewarding experience to see my former students become terrific teachers! So proud of Liz! The circle of life!




I also loved finally meeting the very talented Todd Strasser, author of Give a Boy a Gun, who was kind enough to write a blurb for the cover of This is Not a Drill. Todd has written over 100 children's/YA books! He was so generous in his praise for my book, and I'm very grateful.



I did manage to escape the convention hall and go out on the strip for a bit on a beautiful afternoon.


 I saw Elvis standing next to  Elmo on the sidewalk, which seemed about right for Vegas - and where else would you find a Jelly Bean Statue of Liberty?



I had a great view of the strip and got to watch Vegas come alive as the sky darkened each night. 


My fun roommate Wendy Stephens (fabulous librarian and another former student – I’m so lucky) treated me to my first Cirque de Soliel, which was jaw-dropping. We found a great restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi, where we sat outside and watched the Bellagio fountains – most relaxing meal of the week.



On my last night, I went down to the casino to play a few hands of blackjack because I knew my brother-in-law Tommy would give me hell if I spent a week in Vegas without gambling at all. I took $100 and left with $150 . . . three hours later. Met really nice people and had fun, even though I’m not much of a gambler. I used my “big” winnings to get a neck and shoulder massage on my airport layover – money well spent.

We’re living in a time in our country’s history when teacher morale is plummeting. Superintendents without education backgrounds are replacing experienced classroom veterans with Teach for America workers, unions are constantly under attack, cost-of-living raises are not even discussed, and the workload grows heavier as classroom sizes increase and staff is cut to save money. But you’d never know it from the teachers I met at NCTE/ALAN. Their enthusiasm for books and their love for kids cannot be dampened by the burdens heaped on them by a tough economy.  Many of them paid their own expenses and all of them left their families right before Thanksgiving to learn, to listen, to share, to grow. My spirits were lifted by their energy and commitment and my heart was warmed by their friendship.

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Posted in November, 2012


It Gets Better - With Our Help

One of the hardest things I've dealt with as a teacher is counseling students with suicidal thoughts. The high school years are so difficult with hormones, crushes, insecurities, identity angst, parental battles, and grade issues. At a time when they most need support and approval, many teens are disowned (literally or figuratively) by their parents for being gay. The rejection of a parent is devastating; our parents have so much control over our self-esteem. We believe what they tell us. We're not at an age yet, even as high schoolers, to see how wrong they can be – about us, about sex, about everything.
And sometimes they are wrong. A student once shared a book with me called Toxic Parents. I don't even know if it's in print any more, but it's about how emotionally damaging parent/child relationships can be when parents are controlling and judgmental – and when those parents take away their children's rights and their dignity.

I've often tried to tell depressed students how much better things will be when they're just a little older, when they're away from home and on their own. I've tried to point out all the things in their favor. I remember telling one young man that he was smart, and good looking, and talented, and had many friends, but he didn't see it that way – because I was describing his life from MY perspective. And, whether they have supportive parents or not, that's what's missing for so many teens who give up – perspective. There's no way for them to see their adult lives down the road, away from the cruelties of teenage peers, and sometimes away from parents who want to take away their identities.

This is why I applaud the "It Gets Better" project. As a straight adult, I can't tell gay students their lives will get better. I can't speak on a personal level to the unique problems they face in a homophobic society. But gay adults can. And they have. I am so encouraged by the impact that videos from all over the world, from all types of people of all ages can have on middle schoolers and high schoolers who are strangers to them – because these kids are often isolated and alone with their secret. A secret that can kill, as we've seen too many times in recent months.

Please share the website It Gets Better and the Trevor Project with anyone you know who comes in contact with kids. Some statistics say that 10% of them are gay.

I've been reminded so often lately of a W.B. Yeats quote that I love, "The best lack all conviction while the worse are full of passionate intensity." If those of us who believe in love and acceptance don't aggressively voice our convictions – both at the polls and in our hometowns and among our adult peers, we're giving the bullies permission – to run our governments and to run our lives. If we don't stand up to them and speak loudly about our convictions, we're no better than the bullies themselves. Please help spread some "passionate intensity" for a more accepting world. We can't afford to lose any more young people.

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Posted in November, 2010