Saturday, September 24, 2022

Teachers after Texas attack: ‘None of us are made for this’

Teacher Jessica Sulfia was planting graduation balloons at her West Virginia high school last month when two of them popped, causing panic in a crowded hallway between classes.

A student fell on the floor. Two others entered the open classrooms. Sulfia quickly shouted, “These are balloons! Balloons!” And apologized because the teen realized the noise didn’t come from gunfire.

The moment of terror occurred on May 23 at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, about 80 miles northwest of Washington, the day before a gunman fatally shot 19 children and two teachers in a classroom in Uvalde, Texas. was given. The response reflects the fear that pervades the country’s schools and taxes its teachers – even those who have never experienced such violence – and the stress imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. comes on top.

Sulfia has a more direct connection to gun threats. Her mother, who is also a West Virginia teacher, found herself seven years ago staring at a student in her class with a gun. After talking to him for nearly two hours, he was lauded for his role in bringing the incident to a peaceful end.

In 21st century America, a job seems impossible for any teacher standing in front of a classroom. Already expected to be guidance counselors, social workers, surrogate parents and more for their students, teachers are sometimes referred to as mentors.


The US public school landscape has changed markedly since the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado, and Salfia said teachers think about the risks every day.

“What if we go into lockdown? What if I hear gunshots?” He said. “What if one of my students comes to school armed that day? It’s a constant thread of thought.”

George Theoharis was a teacher and headmaster for a decade and has been training teachers and school administrators at Syracuse University for the past 18 years. He said teachers are now more stretched than ever – even more so than last year, “when the pandemic was new.”

“We are largely left-wing in this moment, where we expect teachers and schools to solve all our problems and do it quickly,” he said.

Schools across the country are dealing with widespread episodes of abuse since the return of in-person learning, along with increasing student mental health needs. Researchers say that in increasing numbers, teens are turning to gun violence to resolve conflicts.

In Nashville, Tennessee, three Inglewood Elementary School employees swung into action last month to stop a man who had cut a fence. After guiding the children inside on the playground, the man followed them, but was confronted by kindergarten teacher Rachel Davis.

At one point, secretary Katrina “Nikki” Thomas held him in a headlock. He and school bookkeeper Shay Patton surrounded the man inside the school until officers arrived. All three employees were injured.

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Patton said, “To me, it was just like these kids are innocent. I just knew they couldn’t protect themselves, so it was on us. And I didn’t think twice.”

Less than two weeks after the news of Uvalde’s shooting came to light, all three employees watched in panic.

“In my head, I immediately thought, ‘That could have been me and my kids,'” Davis said. “That playground we could be out there… man if he had a gun.”

Adding to the frustration for some teachers was the scapegoat of a teacher who was initially blamed by a gunman for opening a door used to enter an Uvalde, Texas elementary school. A few days later, officials said the teacher had closed the door, but it did not.

Kindergarten teacher Anna Hernandez said Texas teachers are worried after years of rough patches and are showing no signs of ending. He and a group of Dily’s colleagues took an hour for Uvalde, as they could, to distribute donated animals and cases of water. He said more is needed.

“As teachers (and) for students to feel safe and secure in the classroom we have to make changes to feel safe in the classroom,” she said.


Tish Jennings, a Virginia education professor specializing in teacher stress and social-emotional learning, said teacher stress tends to be contagious.

“It interferes with their ability to function, and it also interferes with students’ ability to learn,” Jennings said. “So when things like this happen, school shootings happen, it sets everyone off. It’s very hard to learn when you fear for your life. ,

The gunman who killed 19 students and 2 teachers at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was not stopped by police for at least 40 minutes after the attack began. A representative for America’s Gun Owners says one solution is to let teachers carry guns too – taking down mass shooters when police can’t.

Salfia says that it is difficult to bear the burden of teachers.

“You’re the first responder. You’re the first reporter. If there’s a problem in the house, sometimes the only chance a baby has to love is to get food that day, maybe that day to get a warm and safe place Right now the job scope is huge.”

The pandemic added to the challenge of finding enough substitute teachers to keep distance learning, classrooms clean and schools running.

There is also a feeling that tragedy does happen, and politicians rarely do anything about it.

“It’s so hard to know that, at any point in time, that reality could be your reality or even your children’s reality,” said Salfia, a mother of three students. Killed in Texas. It accelerates everything, I think, especially when you’re in orbit. ,

In August 2015, the new school year had barely begun for Salfia’s mother, teacher Twyla Smith, when a freshman entered Smith’s World Studies class at Philip Barbour High School and pulled a gun taken from her home.

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For about 45 minutes, Smith said, no one outside the room knew the class was being held hostage. He diverted her attention from the other students and tried to talk to her while she was walking around the room with him.

Eventually, the police convinced the boy to let everyone go. After at least an hour and a half, his pastor helped persuade the boy to surrender. A few months later, he was sentenced to juvenile facility until the age of 21.

Smith, who has a background in dealing with students with behavioral problems, was among those hailed as heroes, a label he dropped.

“I think my training has just come into play,” Smith said. “And then I had 29 new guys sitting there looking at me, and I have to say, they were heroes. Because they did everything I told them to do, and they did everything they wanted them to do.” and he remained quite calm.”

Smith saw those freshmen through to graduation in 2019. Then she retired.

Back at Spring Mills High, one of Sulfia’s former students now works as a first-year English teacher in her department. Asked what she tells others in hopes of moving into her field, Sulfia repeated the alumnus description of what today’s teachers do: “None of us are made for this.” But his commitment to the profession is such that he is “only made for it,” and can hardly consider any other career.

“It’s the only thing I can imagine doing,” said Salfia. “But it’s also the hardest thing I can imagine.”

After the balloons exploded, “the kids were clearly rattling,” she recalled. “Some people were a little angry at me, I think, in reaction to the fear that everyone had experienced from moment to moment.”

She knows that she and her students live in this world.

“We are all ready, at any moment, to run away from that sound.”

There are still questions and confusion about the police’s response to a mass shooting inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Jillian Snyder, director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute, and Dr. Donnell Harwin, senior researcher at RAND Corporation joined LX News to discuss what went wrong and what could have been done differently.


Associated Press writers Jonathan Mattis in Nashville, Tennessee, and Jay Reeves in Uvalde, Texas, contributed to this report.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.


More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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