Teachers after the attack in Texas: “None of us are made for this” | News, Sports, Jobs
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Teacher Jessica Salfia was setting up graduation balloons last month at her West Virginia high school when two of them burst, causing panic in a crowded hallway between lessons.
A student fell to the ground. Two others rushed into the open classrooms. Salfia quickly shouted, “It’s balloons!” Balloons!” and apologized when the teenagers realized the noise was not from gunfire.
The moment of terror at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, about 80 miles northwest of Washington, occurred on May 23, the day before a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers in a classroom in Uvalde, Texas. The reaction reflects the fear gripping the country’s schools and taxing its teachers – even those who have never experienced such violence – and it adds to the pressure imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Salfia has a more direct connection to gun threats than most. Her mother, also a teacher in West Virginia, found herself watching a student with a gun in her classroom seven years ago. After talking to her for about two hours, she was hailed for her role in bringing the incident to a peaceful resolution.
For any teacher in front of a classroom in 21st century America, the job seems to demand the impossible. Already called upon to be guidance counsellors, social workers, surrogate parents and more for their students, teachers are sometimes called upon to also be protectors.
The landscape of US public schools has changed dramatically since the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999, and Salfia said teachers are thinking about the risks every day.
“What would happen if we went into containment? What would happen if I heard gunshots? she says. “What would happen if one of my students came to school armed that day? It’s a constant thread of thought. »
George Theoharis was a teacher and principal for a decade and has spent the past 18 years training teachers and school administrators at Syracuse University. He said teachers are in more demand than ever – even more than last year, “when the pandemic was more recent.”
“We are kind of left behind right now where we expect teachers and schools to solve all our problems and do it quickly,” he said.
Schools across the country have faced widespread episodes of misbehavior since the return to in-person learning, which has been accompanied by increased mental health needs for students. More teens are turning to gun violence to resolve improvised conflicts, researchers say.
In Nashville, Tennessee, three Inglewood Elementary School staff sprung into action last month to restrain a man who had jumped a fence. After the children on the playground were led inside, the man followed them, only to be tackled by kindergarten teacher Rachel Davis.
At one point, Secretary Katrina “Niki” Thomas held him in a headache. They and school accountant Shay Patton cornered the man, who did not have a gun, inside the school until authorities arrived. All three employees were injured.
“For me, it was as if these children were innocent” said Patton. “I just knew they couldn’t protect themselves, so it was up to us. And I didn’t think twice.
Less than two weeks later, the three employees watched in horror as the news of Uvalde’s shooting.
“In my head, I immediately thought, ‘That could have been me and my kids'” Davis said. “It could have been us out there on that playground with that…guy if he had a gun on him.”
Adding to the frustration of some educators was a teacher’s scapegoat initially accused of opening the door a gunman used to enter the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. A few days later, officials said the teacher had closed the door, but it hadn’t locked.
Kindergarten teacher Ana Hernandez said educators in Texas are worried after a difficult time that has lasted for years and shows no signs of ending. She and a group of Dilley colleagues drove an hour to Uvalde to do whatever they could, delivering stuffed animals and crates of water. She said more was needed.
“Changes need to be made for us to feel safe in a classroom as teachers (and) for students to also feel safe and secure in a classroom,” she says.
Tish Jennings, a professor of education at the University of Virginia who specializes in teacher stress and social-emotional learning, said teacher stress becomes contagious.
“It interferes with their ability to function, and it also interferes with students’ ability to learn,” said Jennings. “So when things like that happen, school shootings, it shuts everybody down. It’s very hard to learn when you’re scared for your life.
Salfia says the teachers’ workload is daunting.
“You are a first responder. You are a first journalist. If there’s a problem at home, sometimes you’re the only chance a child has to love, get food that day, maybe have a warm, safe place to be. That day. The scope of work is huge right now.
The pandemic has added the challenge of remote learning, sanitizing classrooms, and finding enough substitute teachers to keep schools running.
It also feels like tragedies keep happening and politicians rarely do anything about it.
“It’s so hard to know that at any time this reality could also be your reality, or your children’s reality,” said Salfia, a mother of three students. “My youngest is the same age as the kids who were killed in Texas. It sharpens everything, I think, especially when you’re in a classroom.
In August 2015, the new school year had just begun for Salfia’s mother, teacher Twila Smith, when a freshman entered Smith’s world studies classroom at Philip Barbour High School and walked out. a gun he had taken home.
For about 45 minutes, Smith said, no one outside the room knew the class was being held hostage. She took her attention away from the other students and tried to get him to talk as she walked around the room with him.
Eventually, the police persuaded the boy to let everyone go. After at least another hour and a half, his pastor helped convince the boy to surrender. A few months later, he was sentenced to a juvenile facility until he turned 21.
Smith, who has experience dealing with students with behavioral problems, was among those hailed as heroes, a label she deflected.
“I think my training just kicked in,” said Smith. “And then I had 29 freshmen sitting there looking at me, and I have to say, they were the heroes. Because they did everything I told them to do, and they did everything. what he told them to do. And they stayed pretty quiet.
Smith saw these freshmen until they graduated in 2019. Then she retired.
Back at Spring Mills High, one of Salfia’s former students now works in her department as a first-grade English teacher. When asked what she says to others hoping to enter her field, Salfia repeated the ex-student’s description of what teachers are going through today: “None of us are cut out for this.” But their commitment to the profession is such that they “are only built for this”, and could hardly envisage another career.
“It’s the only job I can imagine doing” Safia said. “But it’s also the hardest job I can imagine doing.”
After the balloons burst, “the children were visibly shaken” she remembers. “Some people were a little angry with me, I think, in reaction to this fear that everyone had momentarily experienced.”
She knows this is the world she and her students live in now.
“We are all, at any moment, ready to run away from this sound.”