Not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’: Wisconsin educators react to Texas shooting

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — Tragedies like the slayings of 19 students and two teachers in a Texas elementary school Tuesday are scary for everyone on all levels — from students to teachers to parents to law enforcement.

Educators say school shootings have become normalized, and there is too much pressure on them to keep students safe.

Teachers entered their chosen field to educate students, but now, they are forced to prepare for what to do when a school shooting happens.

“Incredible sadness, to anger, to really feeling numb because it’s happened so many times,” said Abigail Swetz, a former middle school teacher.

Swetz left the classroom, but she’s still very involved in education as the communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

School shootings have taken a toll on the mental health of students and educators, she said.

“It’s just too much pressure on the educators and the students,” Swetz said.

Schools prepare for these scenarios through intruder drills, but drills are not enough.

“I think trying to balance these things with safety and emotional safety of our students is so difficult and that’s why we need more than just drills,” Swetz said.

Students are more scared about their safety in classrooms than ever before, she said.

“Feels a school shooting is not an ‘if’ but more of a ‘when,'” she said.

Experts say talking to your children about your own concerns can help them open up about their feelings.

“Inviting them to say, ‘This is what I worry about,’ or ‘This is what makes me feel safe,'” said Lauren Baker, a child psychologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

Having conversations about school shootings is a difficult topic for children in younger grades, Swetz said, adding that it’s become necessary.

“I think that’s really tough because we’re putting our children in a position that they’re impacted by but their voice is not really part of the conversation,” she said.

Conversations about school shootings will vary based on age.

“Depending on the age, you might have a more developed conversation. Middle schoolers, high schoolers, have a bigger range of understanding and are probably hearing more about what’s going on in schools,” Baker said.

As for Swetz, she said tragedies like school shootings can and should be prevented.

“Wouldn’t it have been better if we could have proactively done something the day before this happened as opposed to making statements after it happened?” she said.

Because children and teachers should be able to go to school without fear.

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