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Teacher killings bring profession's risks to light

By Carolyn Thompson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

"The reality is, it can happen anywhere," said Columbia High School Principal John Sawchuk, who in 2004 found himself wrestling a 16-year-old student for the loaded shotgun the boy used to wound a teacher in his East Greenbush, N.Y. school.

"That was the most terrifying moment of my life, something I will never forget," Sawchuk said. "I kept thinking, if I let go, he's going to kill me."

"You never really get over it. You try to learn from it," said Sawchuk, who added security officers, stepped up emergency drills and has stressed heightened vigilance since the shooting.

"We don't leave a stone unturned anymore," he said.

Diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder are not uncommon for victimized teachers, given the generally peaceful profession, said Dr. Gerald Juhnke of the University of Texas at San Antonio, an expert on the disorder.

"Teachers don't carry guns or badges," he said. "Teachers believe that they're safe in their environments for the most part, so when they experience violent behavior or threats it shakes them to the foundation — because they are there to help students."

Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York's largest teachers' union, said lesser disruptions from disrespectful students — mouthing off or refusing to take off a headset — are more troubling to teachers on a daily basis than is the threat of physical violence.

Teachers know what to do in those cases, he said. That's not always true when things escalate.

"When I worked in prisons, you had a panic button," Juhnke said. "Schools typically don't have that."

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