Teachers help kids cope with wildfire losses

BASTROP, TX (KXAN/NBC) - Special ed teacher Doug Clark could be excused for skipping an upcoming education convention. After all, he lost his home to the Texas wildfires. But that hasn't stopped him from turning his tragedy into a teachable moment.

Clark is one of 200 Bastrop, TX, educators made homeless by the Texas wildfires. As the Bastrop inferno grew, the Mina Elementary School teacher was just returning home from Dallas.

"We didn't know if our house was gone, we didn't know if the fire was going to come in to the actual town of Bastrop, but the firefighters and first responders did an incredible job," Clark said.

Sheltered at a hotel, he was allowed home a week later.

"We were able to go in and take a look and sure enough it is down to the ground. I really don't have words for that. Your whole family's life, all the mementoes, all the little stuff - gone," he says.

At the upcoming Education Nation Summit in New York, parents, teachers and students will meet with leaders in politics, business and technology to talk about the future of education. When he gets there, Clark says he plans to remind participants how important teachers are to traumatized kids, even when they've suffered their own losses.

When finally allowed to return to work, the 200 homeless teachers held in their personal grief and concentrated on the kids.

"The kids have really been hurt by this, and their families. The kids don't know what to do with it, we're struggling to make sense of it all ourselves," Clark said. "We've got a lot of work to do and it's going to take a long time."

Clark saw the pain on the children's faces.

"Some of the saddest ones have been those that have lost animals. Dogs and cats and so forth. For the little kids, and I'm in an elementary school, that really hits home," Clark explained.

Clark is proud of the role teachers played in returning Bastrop to some sense of normalcy.

"Teachers are the iconic profession and we need to enhance and improve their position as professionals, and this is just a fantastic example of how teachers can step up, in spite of their own issues at the time, and meet the needs of the community," Clark said. "They have a real passion and drive to serve and to help. And we do, we just stick with it."

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