NewsNational

Actions

Teachers after Texas attack: ‘None of us are built for this'

Uvalde strong
Posted at 4:49 PM, Jun 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-04 16:49:42-04

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Teacher Jessica Salfia was putting up graduation balloons last month at her West Virginia high school when two of them popped, setting off panic in a crowded hallway between classes.

One student dropped to the floor. Two others lunged into open classrooms. Salfia quickly shouted, “It’s balloons! Balloons!” and apologized as the teenagers realized the noise didn’t come from gunshots.

The moment of terror at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, about 80 miles (124 kilometers) northwest of Washington happened May 23, the day before a gunman fatally shot 19 children and two teachers in a classroom in Uvalde, Texas. The reaction reflects the fear that pervades the nation’s schools and taxes its teachers — even those who have never experienced such violence — and it comes on top of the strain imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Salfia has a more direct connection to gun threats than most. Her mother, also a West Virginia teacher, found herself staring down a student with a gun in her classroom seven years ago. After talking to him for some two hours, she was hailed for her role in helping bring the incident to a peaceful end.

For any teacher standing in front of a classroom in 21st century America, the job seems to ask the impossible. Already expected to be guidance counselors, social workers, surrogate parents and more to their students, teachers are sometimes called on to be protectors, too.

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

“What would happen if we go into a lockdown? What would happen if I hear gunshots?” she said. “What would happen if one of my students came to school armed that day? This is 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 stretched more now than ever — even more than last year, “when the pandemic was newer.”

“We’re sort of left in this moment where we do expect teachers and schools to solve all our problems and do it quickly,” he said.

Schools nationwide have been dealing with widespread episodes of misbehavior since the return to in-person learning, which has been accompanied by soaring student mental health needs. In growing numbers, teens have been turning to gun violence to resolve spur-of-the-moment conflicts, researchers say.

In Nashville, Tennessee, three Inglewood Elementary School staffers sprang into action last month to restrain a man who had hopped a fence. After children on the playground were directed inside, the man followed them, but he was tackled by kindergarten teacher Rachel Davis.

At one point, secretary Katrina “Nikki” Thomas held him in a headlock. They and school bookkeeper Shay Patton cornered the man, who didn’t have a gun, inside the school until authorities arrived. All three employees were hurt.

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

“What would happen if we go into a lockdown? What would happen if I hear gunshots?” she said. “What would happen if one of my students came to school armed that day? This is 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 stretched more now than ever — even more than last year, “when the pandemic was newer.”

“We’re sort of left in this moment where we do expect teachers and schools to solve all our problems and do it quickly,” he said.

Schools nationwide have been dealing with widespread episodes of misbehavior since the return to in-person learning, which has been accompanied by soaring student mental health needs. In growing numbers, teens have been turning to gun violence to resolve spur-of-the-moment conflicts, researchers say.

In Nashville, Tennessee, three Inglewood Elementary School staffers sprang into action last month to restrain a man who had hopped a fence. After children on the playground were directed inside, the man followed them, but he was tackled by kindergarten teacher Rachel Davis.

At one point, secretary Katrina “Nikki” Thomas held him in a headlock. They and school bookkeeper Shay Patton cornered the man, who didn’t have a gun, inside the school until authorities arrived. All three employees were hurt.