In Praise of the Teacher Who Talked Down Gun-Toting Teen


The history teacher who helped resolve a hostage situation at gunpoint in West Virginia on Tuesday, while the rest of the student body evacuated (above), did “a miraculous job,” according to the school’s superintendent, Jeffrey Woofter. (Photo: AP Photo/Ben Queen)

A history teacher is being hailed as a hero for talking down a pistol-toting 14-year-old who took a classroom hostage at Philip Barbour High School in West Virginia on Tuesday.

Shortly after 1 p.m., according to WSLS, the student — whom Barbour County Schools superintendent Jeffrey Woofter called a “very troubled young man” — pulled out a gun in a classroom of 29 students, just as classes were about to change, and took them hostage. The educator (whom Woofter would not name) did “a miraculous job, calming the student, maintaining order in the class,” he said.

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At gunpoint the teacher reportedly talked with the teen and persuaded him not to allow more students into the classroom. The turned-away students were then able to notify another teacher, who alerted administrators to call 911 and evacuate the rest of the 724-student body to the football stadium.

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Police negotiators stepped in 45 minutes later and convinced the teen to release his hostages. “He’s a child who’s been bullied to the point where he just snapped,“ Haven of Hope Ministry pastor Howard Swick, also called in to talk with the teen during the incident, told the Associated Press. Less than three hours later, the student surrendered without inflicting a single injury.

“Teaching our nation’s children is not a job for the faint of heart,” Gary Beckner, Association of American Educators chairman and president, tells Yahoo Parenting. “We applaud [this teacher and all of] America’s educators for taking on roles above and beyond the call of duty — from counselor to protector.”

Teachers are entrusted, after all, with “our most valued resource — our children,” Beckner adds. And so much of what teachers do, every school day, goes above and beyond the already demanding job of imparting academic instruction. Therapist, social worker, and conflict-resolution specialist are just some of the hats that teachers wear in the classroom today, most of which they never get any credit for.

“We hear when teachers put their own lives in danger to protect their students, and rightfully so,” Linda Houser, PhD, current president of the Association of Teacher Educators, tells Yahoo Parenting. “However, teachers commit their lives on a daily basis to their students as they strive to mold them into informed, caring, and engaged citizens. As we applaud the teachers who step up in the time of crisis, we also want to praise all teachers who have committed to making a difference in the lives of all children.”

Too often teachers can get a bad rap, says educational psychologist and consultant Lori Day. “Just look at all the talk about how much free time teachers have, summers off, early releases, but if you’ve ever worked in a school you know that’s not true,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Parents don’t see how busy they are, how many demands there are on them, and all the extra things that they do.”

Like playing counselor, as the Philip Barbour High School teacher did so well on Tuesday. “It doesn’t surprise me that a teacher changed the course of what was happening,” says Day. “There are many stories about this. Even in Sandy Hook we learned about the bravery of the principal who tried to talk down the shooter.”

And for all that they do, teachers should get recognized more often, Day adds. “Educators are with people’s children all day long and responsible for their literal lives and emotional well-being,” she explains. “It’s so much more besides teaching them reading, writing, and math.” If anything happens, they put their students above everything else, she says. “Teachers are now literally on the frontlines — and they love their students.”

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