Uvalde Teacher Reflects, One Year After Robb Elementary School Shooting: NPR
Veronica G. Cardenas
Nicole Ogburn says she wasn’t the kind of teacher she should have been this year.
“But everyone said, ‘Well, what do you expect? You know, there’s so many things going through your mind,” she told NPR.
Ogburn said those things often included tracking objects she could use to barricade her classroom door, if what happened a year ago happened again.
“I have a shelf right by the door, kind of like Robb’s last year,” she said. “I was like, I was pushing this against the door and then, I don’t know, I was stacking chairs. A lot of these things have been going through my head all year – what can we do just to maybe give us a little more time?”
Ogburn is a survivor of the deadly mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. On May 24, 2022, a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. Ogburn helped his students escape through a window shattered by a bullet that day.
The story was brutal enough to shake a nation that seems to have grown desensitized to mass shootings, even in schools. The public were horrified by details like distraught parents trying to enter the building, while police hesitated for more than an hour outside the classroom before confronting the shooter.
Even as more and more mass shootings made headlines throughout the year, Uvalde remained a symbol of grief – a community trying to make sense of the violence, remembering children and teachers loved ones while embracing traumatized survivors.
Ogburn wasn’t even sure she could return to work after the shooting.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, depression, all those things,” she said. “And I just can’t imagine – I’m an adult, I’ve developed coping mechanisms throughout my life – I can’t even imagine, like, as a nine-year-old kid who has lived through that, how they cope and move on. Not moving forward, but moving forward.
In the end, the kids were the reason Ogburn came back.
“If I didn’t go back, why would any of the kids in my class want to go back to school? ” she says. “So I had to suck it up and do what I had to do for my family.”
Last August, Ogburn reported for work at a repurposed campus space, dubbed Uvalde Elementary School. Robb Elementary, where she worked for seven years, was closed after the shooting.
She said she was delighted to see the children again and that she still loves her job. But what about the “suck it up” part? It didn’t matter that she was an adult—those coping mechanisms worked overtime all year.
“I had to get out of bed five minutes before I was supposed to be at work,” she admitted. “Because that motivation, that desire that I used to go to work and teach, hasn’t been there this year like it has been in the past.”
And the exhausting stress didn’t start or end in her classroom. Or even in the community. Reports of mass shootings across the country have continued all year, and hypervigilance now follows Ogburn wherever she goes.
“I took my girls to the mall in San Antonio, and every time I go there, it comes to my mind: OK, if something were to happen, where could we go? Where could we go? hide? Where could we run? Where can we protect ourselves from something like that?”
Ogburn was born and raised in Uvalde and said while everyone came together after the tragedy, new tensions have since arisen.
“There was a lot of controversy in town and shouting and shouting about things. And it just makes you feel like, OK, no, we’re not strong. It’s literally tearing our community apart,” Ogburn said. “Instead of us doing something positive and coming together, it was literally tearing us apart.”
Monday was the last day of the school year. Ogburn will now perform his annual classroom cleaning ritual: removing posters, decorations, artwork – and this year, packing up a wealth of less familiar items. At the start of the school year, while shopping for supplies, she focused on buying safety gear and things to keep her students safe.
“I bought a thing that you stick under the door so they can’t open the door,” she told NPR at the time. “I bought a draw curtain so you can’t see at my door if anything is going on. We just thought about more security this year than how nice my room was.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty cute in there. Warm, colorful, creative. “But it wasn’t a top priority.”
As Ogburn and his students navigated normal things like classes, schedules, and supplies, the shadow of their shared trauma loomed large. The kids would get nervous if they saw anything in the hallway, so Ogburn would close that curtain she’d bought for her door. Law enforcement activity in town would get everyone on edge, even if it wasn’t near campus. They have more Ministry of Public Security officers roaming the building.
And of course there are the security drills – for those who survived the shooting, not a just-in-case drill, but a re-enactment of what really happened.
“Sometimes these kids, it’s a trigger for them,” Ogburn said. “Even though they knew it was coming because every one of our drills this year was actually announced and prepped before we had it, like a week before.”
And after the end of the exercise? After calming down the kids who didn’t take it well – and calming down too? “You continue your teaching day,” Ogburn said.
And even as his students study their words, we left behind his own vocabulary: the promise.
“I can’t promise we’ll be safe,” she said. “I used to tell my kids, ‘We’re safe. I promise.’ I just felt like I couldn’t make those promises. And so this year, it was, ‘We’re safer than we’ve ever been.’ I said it, just because we had the DPS officers on campus all year. I didn’t say, ‘I promise we’re safe.'”