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How does a Texas teacher continue working on the day after a school shooting?


Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be a teacher in the schools around Uvalde, Texas. This horrible trauma unfolds. Nineteen children are killed at Robb Elementary School, along with two of your fellow teachers. And then less than 24 hours later, you have to go back to work. You have to greet your students with a smile, make them feel like they're safe and that life will go on.

CARLA PEREZ: We all feel it. We're all a part of it. And it really hurts.

MARTIN: Carla Perez (ph) teaches high school in the city of Kyle, south of Austin. A lot of her family lives in Uvalde, which is about 2 hours away. Yesterday, she went back to school to oversee one of the last exams before summer break.

PEREZ: And I kind of - I had that whole scene in the back of my mind. And I was a little bit anxious. But I knew that I had to finish out the year with my kids. And I had to do what I needed to do. And I just prayed that I could be OK today.

MARTIN: Throughout the day, she had to hide her tears from students.

PEREZ: I think one of them caught me and said, what's wrong? And I just kind of said, oh, it's just allergies, you know? I didn't really want to deal with it or go into it while they were there. It - I didn't want to put a damper on their summer.

MARTIN: But it was tough. She lost a member of her extended family in the shooting, 10-year-old Tess Mata.

PEREZ: She's actually my niece's cousin. And we probably just saw her on April 30. They were out dancing. My niece got married.

MARTIN: Carla is still trying to process what all this means for herself and for her colleagues.

PEREZ: Teachers are a tight-knit community. And we - when a child hurts, we hurt. Excuse me. So it's really hard for us to focus on doing our job and trying to wrap up the end of school.

MARTIN: Other teachers were also struggling as they tried to finish up the school year. And it was just surreal for Erin Sutton. She works at La Pryor High School, about 20 minutes south of Uvalde. They decided to go ahead with the senior class trip to Six Flags amusement park yesterday. I talked to Erin while she was actually on the bus with her students on their way back from the field trip.

What was it like today as you got on the bus, as you talked to everyone? What was that like?

ERIN SUTTON: Well, there was, you know, a lot of questions, a lot of tears, a lot of unanswered questions we couldn't help them with - questions pending, you know, what we're going to do for graduation, then a couple of other events that we had planned. And there was a lot of discussion because one of the senior's kindergarten teachers had lost her daughter during the shooting. So we did a little moment of silence. And it was a rough morning.

MARTIN: You were there to chaperone these kids through this important kind of milestone in their own career. But no doubt, you had your own apprehensions.

SUTTON: Yeah. I mean, it was hard to want to go somewhere. But at the same time, you know, these kids deserve to have their life, too, you know? It's a tragic moment. But, you know, they worked really hard to get here. And so we were very torn. We had long conversations about whether we should go ahead with it. But in the end, we decided it was important for them to have - you know, to have something to kind of help them look forward to something, if that makes sense.

MARTIN: What kind of conversations have you had with your friends, with your fellow teachers?

SUTTON: Just making sure everyone's OK. That's - you know, our kids all go to UCSD. What could have been done to prevent it if there was anything, which I don't - you know, it's too soon to tell. How could this happen? How is this possible? You know what I mean?

MARTIN: And you're a special ed teacher, is that right?


MARTIN: And you're a parent, too?

SUTTON: Yes, ma'am. I have a 4-year-old.

MARTIN: You have a 4-year-old. So your child is not yet in elementary school?

SUTTON: No, not yet. Next year will be her first year.

MARTIN: Yeah. Still, I imagine, thinking about what has transpired, it's hard to compartmentalize, I suppose.

SUTTON: Yeah. It's hard. When I picked my daughter up, she was at daycare. And she was very scared. And she said that - you know, that there was a bad guy with a gun, and she had to lay on her belly at school. And my husband is in law enforcement. So she was really scared, wondering where Daddy was because she knows Daddy handles bad guys. It was a hard day. And then, she didn't sleep very well last night.

MARTIN: How did you sleep?

SUTTON: Probably about the same as her. You keep hearing - there was more and more numbers throughout the night. And you can't imagine. You know, I was lucky I got to hold my daughter. A lot of people didn't have that.

MARTIN: Is there anything else you want us to know about this moment in your community?

SUTTON: Just that life is never going to be the same. This community is forever going to be touched. I mean, it used to be known as the honey capital of the world. You know, we had a honey bee festival, celebrated honey. And now this is what we're going to be known for. And it shouldn't be that way.

MARTIN: That was Erin Sutton, a special ed teacher at La Pryor High School in La Pryor, Texas. We also heard from Carla Perez, a high school teacher in the city of Kyle, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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