Mt. Vernon Register-News

CNHI Special Projects

December 17, 2012

Teachers prepare to return to classes after massacre

(Continued)

NEWTOWN, Conn. —

Columbine biology teacher Douglas Craft wanted his students to see that "something in life was good," so he veered from the syllabus and invited a bird lover and her hawk to come to the school auditorium and entertain the teenagers. Teacher Joe Higgins tried to busy his students with constant assignments, but then became more forgiving in his grading. "They were traumatized," he said. "They just couldn't concentrate."

English teacher Paula Reed was relieved to go back to school — until she started running into ghosts of her old self in the classroom. She studied the notes that she had written before the shooting in the margins of her planning book. They were so purposeful, so uncomplicated. "It sort of felt like someone I'd known, but it wasn't me anymore," she said. For the next three years, Reed struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her hair fell out. She broke into hives. She had a tension headache for months and eventually took a leave of absence.

Thirteen years later, she is still teaching at Columbine, and she is still spooked by the annual intruder drill that requires her to huddle silently with students in the classroom.

"I know how long it lasts, and I know how dark it gets," she said.

It was the outcome that teachers in Newtown were already beginning to dread Sunday night.

In a house just outside of town, Dori Parniawski prepared to begin her week as a kindergarten teacher at Middle Gate Elementary, just down the road from Sandy Hook. A second-grade teacher, she had spent the weekend trying to avoid the news. Class at Sandy Hook had been canceled for at least a week, but she would be returning the next morning to a school that was in many ways indistinguishable. "Their classrooms look like my classrooms. Their students look like my students," she said. She had friends who taught at Sandy Hook. Her 4-year-old son was about to start school.

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