In the Sunday, June 2, 2013, edition of the Arizona Daily Star, Bonnie Henry published a column titled "Some days, teachers are first responders.” I became incredibly moved as I read her documentation of how teachers coping with extreme crisis situations involving children put their own lives at risk to try to save them.
First responders go through diverse and intensive training to learn how to rescue people, to treat the injured, and to master the most current methodologies for dealing with the trauma that occurs when there is a crisis.
Teachers attend higher institutions of higher learning and ongoing trainings to learn how to teach children the academic content and life skills they will need to become successful citizens.
Bonnie’s message is that teachers, first at the scene of the school shooting in New Town, CT, and at the Oklahoma site where a tornado destroyed Towers Elementary School, had to improvise first responder skills the best they could: keeping victims calm, protecting them from harm, and tending to their injuries.
Bonnie, who was born and grew up in in Tucson, AZ, worked at the Daily Star 1984-2010. For much of that time she covered the education beat and wrote regular columns. After retiring to rural Show Low, AZ, she continues to write her column every other week, on topics "mostly off the top of my head, or if something really gets my attention.”
In a recent interview with At the Ready Magazine, Bonnie discussed her motivation to acknowledge teachers as first responders, and how to support them in that role.
"I was horrified by the shooting incident in New Town,” Bonnie says, "but did not write about it right away. Then, after the tornadoes struck in Oklahoma, I saw a TV interview with teacher Jennifer Doan in the hospital. She was talking about keeping the kids calm and trying to be calm herself, but tears were flowing down her face. I was very moved by seeing her emotions.
"I researched other stories about school situations and realized that this is what teachers do – they’re right there, responding first.
"I’ve had a lot of response to my column from teachers. They were so gratified to be portrayed in such a positive light.”
As far as holding drills for school shootings is concerned, "It depends on the age of the children. And it adds one more task for teachers – how to educate the children to be prepared for this type of traumatic situation.”
According to Bonnie, "More effective strategies to prepare for a school shooting might be:
• Have everyone in the school keep an eye out for behaviors that are not normal – ask classmates to alert their teacher and/or principal if something is not right. Be vigilant.
• Have police make presentations about what to watch for to the school.
• Most of the perpetrators seem to telegraph what they might do. They write about it, post it on Facebook. Ask people to report it.”
Bonnie doesn’t agree with recent legislative proposals to arm teachers. "Trained first responders can attest to the adrenaline rush in these tense situations,” she says, "and unintended victims can be hurt. Principals might have a gun, but would they be carrying it every time they get a call to come out of the office?”
Bonnie does believe in increased interaction between schools and their communities.
"The view of teachers has changed over the years. One idea is to have teachers reach out to the community more. One year I did a story on [a local school superintendent].He rounded up all of the teachers who were new that year and took them on a bus ride around the neighborhood to see where the children lived. That community is economically and culturally diverse, so he felt it was important for the new staff to become familiar with it.
"Another idea is for teachers to do home visits, which they used to do when I was in school. Today teachers can also use technology, such as email, to reach out to parents. When teachers reach out, parents respond and it results in a corresponding relationship.
"Maybe there should be a forum held by a district at the beginning of the year with a topic such as 'how can we make our school safe and better protect your children?' Parent will then have an investment in the school, which builds a stronger relationship.”
Bonnie’s Daily Star column related to this article can be accessed here.