Many parents dropped their children off at school on Wednesday with thoughts of what happened in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. And then there are the teachers — the people who show up to school every day — facing questions from students as well as their own fears as they head back into the classroom after yet another school shooting.

Mary Dibinga, a high school English teacher at Boston Latin Academy, joined Morning Edition Thursday. She gave insights into what it was like in her classroom the day after the shooting, particularly after an incident earlier this month where a bag of ammunition was discovered at her school and police swept the campus. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Paris Alston: Mary, good morning. How are you?

Mary Dibinga: Good morning. I'm fine.

Alston: Thanks so much for being with us, Mary. So, what was on your mind when you headed into school yesterday morning?

Dibinga: What's strange is that yesterday morning, in a lot of ways, wasn't different than what a lot of this year has been. There's been so much uncertainty, there's been so much trauma. There's been so much of the feeling that we are going into schools, but not [with] the resources that we need and with so much need from students. And I think particularly in urban communities and communities that are very vulnerable, there just has — for a long time — not been enough resources. And I think the mental health crises are at an all-time high, and I think the need among students and the feeling that we're going to go in and try to sort of patch up a whole social safety net that isn't there for students is sort of the hardest feeling.

And then also being human ourselves, and teachers are in this in much the same way that students are. And trying to process that in ourselves is very hard.

Alston: And you — I mean, Boston Latin Academy — is in an area of the city that has been impacted by gun violence over and over. And so, what did you hear from your students yesterday as all of those feelings were coming together?

Dibinga: So there's always a tension for me as a teacher. There are times when something like this happens and I address it very directly. And then yesterday was one of the times when I did not. And mainly it was because we had had an incident very recently at our school where ammunition was found. And so we had had a whole conversation very recently.

But what I find for myself as an English teacher, there's a lot of pressure on teachers and schools to take on a lot of roles that I think are inappropriate for us, sometimes. To sort of be the counselors because there aren't enough counselors. And what I've found with my students, that can be really tricky and that can be dangerous, sometimes. It's not always good to open up a conversation that you can't finish, and that you can't provide resources for.

And what I found for my students is that it's far more effective that we have regular conversations and that we are sort of learning the boundaries in how to have conversations. So, what I do with my students and responding to things like this is I generally start them not with, “Directly talk about trauma” — and I think compelling people to talk about trauma is not always a good thing. But I invite them to talk about what's on their mind.

And I will frequently have students start with writing. There's a beauty to having things written down because reading something that someone has written both gives you such an intimacy with them, but also a distance. And that can be really helpful in instances like this — where students go inward first and write. Then I have them pick one line, so they have the privacy if they just need to be in their own thoughts, they can on their paper. But just pick one line that they're going to share with the class, and we share that in an online board.

"It's not always good to open up a conversation that you can't finish."

What I have students do from there is, we look at it together. And one of the first things we notice is just the diversity of where we all are on things. You'll see one student who is deep in their sadness and wants to talk with how sad they are. And another student will want to know the safety plan of the school. And another student's often thinking about political frame and how we solve certain problems or pass laws. And then you'll see another student who's just thinking about their math test next period. And one of the things that I do with students, and as we look at that together and sort of process that together, is talk about how all of those feelings are appropriate and okay. And we learn: how do we have a conversation in a room together when people are in such different places, right? Because I have the students then talk in groups to respond in whatever way they want, but I have to give them tools, because you may have one person who absolutely needs to talk about it — and then you have another person who needs to make jokes because that's how they process.

Students need to hear and learn, first of all, that wherever they are is okay, and that you can respond to somebody who is in a different place, right? So if you are a student who needs to talk about the safety plan of everything and sort of try to figure all of that out, but you're next to a student who needs to avoid thinking about it right now — or someone who just needs to process feelings — I think that's one of the most important projects we have as people. To sort of learn: How do we navigate that all together?

And we can't fix... I think schools went first to trying to fix safety and security and systems — that we don't have that much control over — and didn't do enough of with things like connection and community — that we can have a huge impact on. I am very honest with my students. I can't protect them from everything, but I can be there for them and they can be there for each other. And they can learn to be a supportive community, which I think is really what most of us need anyway, that's actually what leads to greater safety.

Alston: And Mary, sorry to interrupt you there, Mary, but you've been a teacher at Boston Latin Academy for 22 years.

Dibinga: In BPS.

Alston: In BPS, okay. And so in all that time, I mean, events like these have continued to happen. What you're saying about your students' lives being impacted by gun violence and all other sorts of trauma has continued to happen. The pandemic has happened in the past couple of years. So with all of that, what keeps you showing up for your students?

Dibinga: What keeps me showing up is them, right? And I think schools, right now, are a place of so many heavy things, but also a place of such hope. And I'm with a community of students who have conversations that I think so many adults could learn from — in the way that they are curious about the world, that they're hopeful about the world, that they want to change things in the world. And I think helping them to figure that out also deeply helps me. I think there's a lot that we're all sort of figuring out together.

And the point I want to put on that, too, is: one of the things to figure out in that conversation, too, with students is helping them identify when things are too much, and when there's something that they can't handle on their own and when they do need to reach out for more support on that. And I think that's something we're looking at in all of us, too, right? As a teacher and a human being myself, I'm doing that same kind of work.

I mean, my second year of teaching at BPS was 9/11. And I just feel like I've cycled through so many moments where I'm processing something myself with a roomful of students, and trying to keep it an appropriate way where — I can't fall apart in front of them, I can't have them take care of me. But there is something in being able to be that presence for them, and then being able to create a community with them that is deeply healing and helpful.

Alston: Well, Mary, thank you so much for continuing to show up and be there for so many children. And thank you for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it.

Dibinga: Thank you for having me and thank you for continuing this conversation. It's very important.

Alston: That was Mary Dibinga, a high school English teacher at Boston Latin Academy. You're listening to GBH News.