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Colleague of Teacher Shot by 1st Grader Speaks Out

Colleague of Teacher Shot by 1st Grader Speaks Out


There is so much to unpack about what happened at Richneck, with many questions lingering in all our minds. And while I know a lot of what happened on that awful day, the full story is not mine to tell, and I will leave the details up to Abby and official statements. It’s her narrative, and she deserves to tell the world in her own time, in her own way. I am a teacher at the same school, and at this moment I feel compelled to speak while the spotlight is shining on us.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, there will be discussions about gun safety and access and parental responsibility, as there should be. Incidents like this don’t happen when only one thing goes wrong, and to approach it through a simple, singular lens would be a disservice not only to Abby and the Richneck community but to teachers across the country as well. 

Picture of Abby Zwerner.

But of all the ways to discuss the intentional shooting of a teacher by a 6-year-old, there is one vital aspect the media has yet to discuss: that teachers across this country, while horrified, are not surprised. 

If you speak with almost anyone who is teaching in today’s world, they will be able to tell you about a time they didn’t feel safe in school. Sworn at, scratched, bitten, choked, desks thrown at them, knives in backpacks, and death threats issued… from kids as young as kindergarteners. Even younger, sometimes. 

It’s not what we signed up for, studied for, or prepared for. It’s not what we pictured in our minds when we played school as children or when we purchased items for our new classrooms and students, an excited gleam in our eyes over the shiny new school supplies that will help our kids learn and grow.

Far too often, teachers are disrespected, threatened, and even assaulted by their students. And it’s usually ignored or swept under the rug by the administration.

“Well, what’s your classroom management strategy?” we’re asked. “What did you do to provoke them?”

Most of the time, we are doing what Abby was doing: teaching. Reviewing math strategies or asking a student to complete their work or to please sit down or to go to music with their peers. But there is often an underlying assumption that the problem lies with us, the teachers. This assumption is often held by some parents, building administrators, or central administration because it is easier to blame the teacher than to solve the issue at hand: That some students need more resources than we can offer them. 

And so these problems don’t get resolved but only put off for a little while longer. We experience major disrespect and violence in our rooms, we send the student to the office, and the kids are sent back from the office with a piece of candy or a fidget toy or are suspended for 3 days and come back like nothing ever happened. We are often told not to even send them to the office – to try and resolve these issues on our own. (Yes, even when we have been threatened with violence.) Sometimes building personnel will make these calls and sometimes it is the fault of a vague districtwide policy that they must uphold. The result is the students who need the most help do not get the services they need and the teacher and other students in the class are left feeling disrespected and on shaky ground at best, and unsafe at worst. 

And to top it all off? The very students who are swearing, scratching, biting, choking, bringing weapons, and issuing death threats – those are so often the ones we know need our help the most. These are the students we want to reach out to with compassion and find the resources for. These are the students we lie awake thinking about at 3 AM, wondering what strategies we haven’t tried yet to help them. 

Crowd gathered in mourning with a candlelight vigil.

When teachers repeatedly beg for the support or resources they need for everyone in their room to be safe and feel successful, far too often their requests fall on deaf ears or are held up by neverending bureaucracy or simply can’t be met due to lack of resources or personnel. Sometimes teachers are reprimanded for even asking for these resources. It’s like an unfunny episode of Abbott Elementary that doesn’t end in a delightful, neat little package after 30 minutes. 

Teachers are drowning, day after day. 

And now one of us has been shot. 

As I said, teachers are horrified by this 1st grade teacher getting shot in the chest by her student but very few of us are surprised. I guarantee you that many teachers are walking into school this week with a real fear that they might face a similar situation. 

Marquee of Richneck Elementary School.

This is why we are having a teacher shortage. This is why teachers are leaving and not looking back. This is a conversation that is missing from the coverage of the Richneck story. What happened at Richneck isn’t special. It just happens to be the place where the result of a lack of concern for teacher well-being and safety made national news. 

If we want to solve this problem, let’s start with this: actively listen to teacher concerns instead of brushing them aside or blaming them. Because our concerns are valid and they are heavier than most people can fathom.

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Thursday 9th of March 2023

And, once again, no consequences for bad (even life- threatening) behavior . . . What is this teaching our children?

Becky G.

Saturday 4th of February 2023

The principal at the school has stated she didn’t even know of the issue. How is that even possible? How broken is the system when the principal isn’t even aware? Assuming she’s telling the truth.

Deborah Pack

Sunday 29th of January 2023

Unfortunately it's the normal students are the ones that receive the least attention. They are being robbed of their education by a broken system. Building administrators often fail to help teachers who have the dangerous and disruptive students. They ignore calls for help in the classroom and think the teacher is responsible for whatever happens in their classrooms. The building administrators are responsible for everything that happens in their schools. Some even refuse to document assaults on staff because they don't want attention on their school. Guess what! Everyone in NNPS is looking at the Division and wondering what can be done. We have been on the news in countries around the world. Now we have everyone's attention. Time for systemic change. All disruptive and dangerous behavior must be taken care of immediately. A free and appropriate setting may not be the place for these students.

Charissa H

Wednesday 18th of January 2023

Great narrative and so very very true. And to offer another viewpoint--Every day I hear the "good" students, complain about feeling invisible, forgotten and ignored. They've done everything right, and they get the least attention, because all the scarce energy, effort, resources and adults in a building concentrate on the students who need the most. "But what about us", they ask. "I can bet $100 that the principal can identify ONLY the 'bad ones' and not even know one of our names."