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Much attention has been paid to the 19 elementary school children who were killed by a teenager in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The murder of these young children is a horrific tragedy. Each of them must be remembered and mourned. We must also recall the two teachers who died at Robb Elementary School.
Irma Garcia, a fourth-grade teacher, was in her 23rd year of teaching at the school. She was shot while trying to protect students. Her husband, Joe, died of a heart attack two days after the shooting.
Eva Mireles was also a fourth grade teacher who shielded students during the shooting. During the massacre, she spoke by phone with her husband, a police officer for the school district, who was outside the school but not allowed to go inside.
As the nation moves forward with calls for action to prevent another massacre at an American school, we should listen to the teachers who have survived school shootings to hear about the trauma they endured and the wisdom they bring to the debate.
Several teachers who have spoken about their experiences during mass shootings emphasized the need to better understand and help teachers cope with the horror they survived.
“One of the things that I think we didn’t do a great job of as a school community was take care of the adults in the school,” Mary Anne Jacobs, who was a library clerk at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, said during a 2018 interview.
“The focus was on getting the kids back into a normal routine, and that was so important that it was done at the expense of the adults in the classroom, and in the building, who were basically told, ‘If you can’t keep it together, we’ll get somebody else to come in.’ And it was a year before there was help in the building for the adults.”
Jacobs recalled emergency first responders in Newtown, Connecticut, receiving awards and accolades for their work at Sandy Hook and wondering about recognition for the teachers and other school staff members, who not only shielded and cared for the children on the day of the shooting in December 2012 but returned to teach and work with the students when school resumed, work that was difficult as reminders of the students and staff who were killed popped up unexpectedly.
“We were the first responders. We protected those kids every day in and out, and nobody wanted to be a hero, but we wanted people to understand that, as a community, we needed their support,” Jacobs said. “But, in fact, we weren’t necessarily getting the kind of support we needed.”
Holly Van Tassel-Schuster, an English teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survived the February 2018 shooting at the school that left 14 students and three staff members dead.
Just months later, after a shooting at Santa Fe, Texas, in which eight students and two teachers were killed, Van Tassel-Schuster said she quickly reached out to staff at the Texas school because she remembered feeling disconnected and isolated after the Parkland shooting.
“Sadly after the event at Stoneman Douglas, I truly did not feel prepared to speak to outsiders, who would not be able to relate to my experiences. In the days following the incident at Stoneman Douglas, I spent them with my colleagues driving to memorials, therapy, and funerals. Many days I just wanted to hide away and avoid the world around me,” she recalled in an email to Education Week.
That changed, she said, after talking with a teacher from Sandy Hook, who helped her and others navigate the return to the classroom.
Ken Yuers was a teacher at the Rancho Tehama School where a gunman went on a rampage in 2017, killing six people but no students, in rural northern California.
He told Slate, in a 2018 interview, about the importance of teachers remaining strong and composed for their students.
“There’s the combination of [having a] class of traumatized kids, and also you’re an educator. You’re there to help kids advance and learn, be successful in life … That had to come first,” he said.
Yuers added: “Yes, it was an exhausting year, but, as I said, we were there for the kids. And sometimes before I went in that classroom, I would be in that staff room just trying to get myself together before I’d leave to go do it.”
Teachers, as Yuers said, are in schools to help kids learn and grow. Too often now, they are also in classrooms protecting children from horrific violence. For the sake of our children and our teachers, we have to reduce the violence.