Thank You for the Fire Drill

There are always unexpected moments in the life of an educator. A child gets paint in their hair, a mouse or chipmunk finds its way into the girls’ bathroom, a pandemic- the list goes on and on. 

This year I encountered an unexpected moment that was a first. I have been lucky to receive thousands of notes and cards from my students over my 20 something years in education. They are tucked away in shoe boxes which reside in my closet. They include notes of thanks, sometimes frustration, and many of them could only be read with a teacher’s eye.

The one I received today was different. I was continuing my daily routine after carline. This is a morning activity that is beloved at our school. It involves opening the car doors to greet our youngest of learners. Often there is a piece of toast in the hand of a 4 year old, a band instrument that needs to be dislodged between a carseat and a sibling, and the occasional new puppy that stops everything in its tracks. It is the perfect start to the day.

After enjoying the shenanigans of carline, I stopped at my mailbox and found a delightful card with a drawing of a little girl on the front. It was from a first grader and inside the card it read ‘Mrs. Feiss, thank you for the fire drill.’ I can tell you that throughout my career I’ve been thanked for a great many things, but never a fire drill. I looked at the card again searching for the name of the sender. Once I found the name I made a note to thank the little one for this card and to inquire as to why she wanted to thank me for a fire drill, of all things. This peaked my curiosity.

Fire drills are usually despised by both teachers and students. They interrupt the fun learning in class. Our shoes are usually sopping wet from the dewy grass. Sometimes the weather is less than cooperative – this is Rochester, New York for goodness sakes where the weather changes every 5 minutes.

Later in the day I found the first grader. I crouched down next to her desk with her card in hand. I quietly showed her the card and asked ‘Did you send this to me?’ A quick nod and a smile followed. I explained that I had never been thanked for a fire drill before. “Why did you want to thank me?” I asked. 

Her reply practically knocked me to the ground. “Because I got to see everyone”, she replied in her sweet quiet voice.


This year we have been isolated and it hasn’t been easy on our kids. They have been in their little cohorts or silos for safety since the start of the school year. Although they have been with their friends in their grade level they haven’t seen many of their older and younger peers. 

This little girl was thankful for a fire drill simply because it made her feel connected. It is all too easy to get swept up in all that is this most unusual year; including the anticipatory grief, the stresses of planning for the worst, the coaching of colleagues and self to slow down and take life as it is, now, today.  

So instead of being full of woe, let’s be grateful for the brief sightings of friends and family. Let’s be thankful for fire drills that remind us we are in this together. Let’s appreciate and listen to our children right now. They are wiser and more observant than we know.

I’m off to schedule another fire drill.

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