This teacher survived the Uvalde shooting. Here's why she is returning to the job
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
A bullet pierced the window of Nicole Ogburn's fourth grade classroom on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas. She told her students to dive to the ground. They all escaped through that window and later learned the same devastating news the rest of the country would learn. A gunman had killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Now a new school year is beginning, and last week we visited Nicole Ogburn at the newly repurposed school that will take on some former Robb students. The school has a new name that was written across the front of her bright teal shirt.
NICOLE OGBURN: This is Uvalde Elementary. On the back it says, together we rise; together we are better. And then this is actually our Robb logo.
SUMMERS: We met up with her in the classroom that she's sharing this year with her co-teacher. When Ogburn started teaching seven years ago, she said she wanted to change the life of at least one child.
OGBURN: I had one little boy from last year - because, you know, last year's group is a very special group now to me. But he literally ran and slid across the Walmart concrete floors and, like, tackled me. And it just makes you feel good that you did something, that you connected with that kid.
SUMMERS: Nicole Ogburn is also thinking about how Uvalde can connect with others and how the country can connect with her town after an unthinkable tragedy.
OGBURN: I want our community to show that you can get through it. It's not easy, but you can. I don't want us to be defined by this. Like, oh, my gosh, like, we're the laughingstock of the world right now because of the way things were handled that day. And I don't want us to be known as, like, oh, look at those Uvalde people. They - you know, they're not competent enough to deal with situations like that. I don't think that was the case that day. I think for me, I've always said never in my whole life have I ever felt unsafe going to work, sending my kids to school - like, never.
SUMMERS: You're about to head into a new school year. How are you feeling about that?
OGBURN: Nervous, anxious. I think I'm scared for how some of these kids are going to react when they get here and if I'm going to be able to handle that part of it because for a while, I haven't been able to handle my own. And am I going to still be able to keep my composure when those kids come in and have - they have an anxiety attack over being here at school and feeling scared? Am I going to be able to handle that? And I hope I am, but I'm not sure.
SUMMERS: It's not a thing anybody can really teach in an education course. Do you think about what you'll say or how you can talk to a kid who's scared to be in this room because of what happened?
OGBURN: I thought about it. But at this - you know, I told a little girl last year - she was - there was a little boy in the class she was scared of. And I said, you know I'm always going to protect you. You know I'm not going to let anything ever happen to you, not knowing this was going to happen. I can't say that now because I don't feel like I can promise they'll be safe. I think we're taking all precautions, but I can't say I promise because if that promise is broken, then they can't trust me.
SUMMERS: Yeah. That class, like you said, is a special class for you. Are you staying in touch with them?
OGBURN: Yeah, we've stayed in touch with some of them, not all of them. But we had a party almost a month after all this happened. I did a GoFundMe, and then we bought them - they're called Pura Vida bracelets. I gave them all, and I said, it's tied. We're bonded for life. Like, this is not how I wanted us to bond for life, I said, but we are.
SUMMERS: I know there have been a lot of changes made throughout the district to try to make sure that kids are safe. As a teacher and as a mom who has kids who are school-aged, how do you feel about all of that? Are you feeling like things are as safe as they can be?
OGBURN: I think they're working towards it being a lot safer. I don't think - we're not there yet because it's taking time. I know here, we're waiting on new locks for doors. We're waiting on - our perimeter doors are going to have keyless locks, so all we have to do is swipe our card, come in and it's already locked. So it's kind of a - we're working towards getting - being safe. And I think we're going to be OK the first day of school, but it's not going to be 100% done. But it's in the process.
SUMMERS: How has what happened at Robb earlier this year - if it has, how has it changed how you think about your job as a teacher?
OGBURN: I wasn't sure I was going to come back as a teacher. But now my job is - my first thing this year - it's really sad - is I usually look for cutesy stuff for my classroom. My first thing was safety stuff for my classroom. I bought a thing that you jam under the door so that they can't open the door. I bought a curtain to pull down so you can't see in my door if something was happening. We've just thought of more safety this year than, how cute is my room going to look, which - right now we're starting to, like, make it look cuter. But that was not my first priority.
SUMMERS: As you think about your students and other kids in Uvalde, perhaps even your own children who are about to return to school, what do you hope this year is like for them?
OGBURN: I hope we can get - not past this, but I hope that they can have a happy year. I hope that they start to feel safe in going places and doing things because I know a lot of the kids even that weren't at Robb are having a hard time feeling safe because this is what surrounded our town all summer.
SUMMERS: And what about for you? What are you hoping for for yourself next year?
OGBURN: That I can get through the year without being a complete emotional wreck. But having my co-teacher with me has helped a lot because we both said, if you don't come back, I'm not coming back, because we can't do it without each other.
SUMMERS: You said you almost didn't come back. What changed your mind?
OGBURN: I thought first for my own kids. If I don't go back, that means my two girls - they have an excuse not to go back. Also, that's an excuse for kids not to go back. Oh, well, that teacher's not going back, so why should I go back? And I thought, I got to go back and show them, OK, Miss Ogburn can go back to school. Then so can I.
SUMMERS: After we spoke, I asked Nicole Ogburn to show us around her classroom. She's added a few new things this year, including a chart that students can use to share how they're feeling.
OGBURN: And so you have ready to learn, happy, calm, tired, confused, sad, nervous.
SUMMERS: And before we left, she wanted to show us their class photos from Robb. She was close to Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, the two Robb teachers who were killed in the shooting. Their photos hung on the wall next to a sign.
OGBURN: It says, those we love don't go away. They walk beside us every day. And that's for us because they're going to be with us every day.
(SOUNDBITE OF DMITRI ENSEMBLE'S "FLJOTAVIK (ARR. FOR VIOLIN AND STRING ORCHESTRA)")
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