“None of us are made for this”

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A recent incident at a West Virginia high school showed how school shootings have greatly affected teachers and students across the United States.

Teacher Jessica Salfia was setting up Balloons to school to celebrate graduation. When two of the balloons burst, the students thought the noise was a gunshot. The incident caused panic in a school hallway between lessons.

A student fell to the ground. Two others quickly rushed into open classrooms. Salfia shouted, “It’s balloons! Balloons!” The teacher apologized to the students, who then realized the noise was not from gunfire.

The student reaction shows how much the world has changed in recent years, even for teachers and students who have never experienced school shootings.

The incident happened at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It was a day before a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in a classroom in Uvalde, Texas.

The names of victims killed in last week’s elementary school shooting are inscribed on the back of an SUV near a memorial in Uvalde, Texas, Friday, June 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Salfia has a closer connection to gun threats than most. Her mother, also a teacher in West Virginia, asked a student to pull out a gun in her classroom seven years ago. After talking to the student for two hours, she helped bring the incident to a peaceful end.

For any teacher, the job seems to demand the impossible. Teachers are already expected to be guidance counsellors, social workers, parental role models and more for their students. Now they are increasingly being called upon to protect students as well.

Salfia said teachers think about the risks of school shootings every day. “What would happen if one of my students came to school armed that day?” she says. constant thread of reflection. »

George Theoharis is a former teacher who has spent the past 18 years training teachers and school leaders at Syracuse University. He said teachers are now working harder than ever – even harder than last year, “when the pandemic was more recent”.

“We’re kind of left behind right now where we expect teachers and schools to fix all our problems and do it quickly,” Theoharis said.

Schools across the country are facing more student behavior and mental health issues since the return to in-person learning. More teens are turning to gun violence to resolve immediate conflicts, researchers say.

Ana Hernandez, a kindergarten teacher from Dilley, Texas, wears a Texas-shaped earring to show her support for the community.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Ana Hernandez, a kindergarten teacher from Dilley, Texas, wears a Texas-shaped earring to show her support for the community. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In Nashville, Tennessee, three Inglewood Elementary School employees last month had to restrain a man who had jumped a school fence.

The three workers watched in horror less than two weeks later when the Uvalde shooting happened. “In my head, I immediately thought, ‘That could have been me and my kids,'” teacher Rachel Davis said.

Adding to the anger of some educators was a teacher’s quick reprimand for opening a door the attacker was using to enter Uvalde’s school. A few days later, officials said the teacher had closed the door, but it hadn’t locked.

Salfia says teachers are expected to do a lot for their students.

“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 a lot of work right now.

The pandemic has added the difficulties of remote learning, cleaning classrooms and finding enough temporary teachers to keep schools running.

There’s also a sense that as long as school shootings continue to happen, politicians can’t band together to do anything about them.

In August 2015, the high school year had just begun for Salfia’s mother, teacher Twila Smith. A freshman walked into Smith’s Global Studies classroom at Philip Barbour High School and pulled out a gun.

For about 45 minutes, Smith said, no one outside the room knew the class was in grave danger. She took the student’s attention away from the others 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 and the gun was not fired.

Smith said, “I had 29 freshmen sitting there watching me, and I have to say, they were the heroes.”

When asked what she says to others hoping to get into teaching, Salfia repeats another teacher’s description of what today’s teachers face: “None of us isn’t made for that.”

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

I am Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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words in this story

ball nm a thin bag usually made of rubber that expands when filled with air or gas

constant adj. happens all the time or very often over a period of time

first responder nm a person (such as a police officer or paramedic) who is one of those responsible for going immediately to the scene of an accident or emergency to provide assistance

scope nm the domain that is included or covered by something

remote adj. connected to a computer system from another location

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