As I listened to the accounts of survivors and rescuers talking about the actions of teachers in two school buildings in Oklahoma during the May 20th 2-mile wide tornado, I was overwhelmed by the contrasts between the selfless acts of these devoted teachers and the endless attacks on the profession coming from those who endlessly attack teachers and want to hold them responsible for the problems in education today.
From the May 21 New York Times ‘Crews Search for Survivors in Oklahoma’ comes a report of the actions of teachers at the AgapeLand Learning Center, a day care program, the staff “hustled some 15 children into two bathrooms, draping them with a protective covering and singing songs with them to keep them calm. As the wind ripped the roof off one of the bathroom, and debris rained down on the children, they remained calm singing “you are my sunshine… Though the day care center was almost entirely destroyed, the children were unharmed.”
Teachers in other buildings were reported to have covered children with their own bodies–one teacher covering three and another covering five, risking and suffering injuries themselves but keeping their charges safe.
In Newtown, CT, the principal and classroom teachers stood between the gunman that threatened kids in the building, and were gunned down. In buildings across the nation, teachers are trained in emergency procedures to follow during school crises, but putting one’s own body between kids and the danger is not part of the training. it is, however, what teachers everywhere would do. In eduction, we take care of our charges–regularly, again and again, and without remorse. It is part of our dedication to those children entrusted to our care. In emergencies, we lead by example.
At Columbine, as the shooters fired on students in the cafeteria, a teacher and two other school employees helped students escape throughout the firing. Later, that teacher fell victim to the shooters in a hallway, and died despite being dragged into a classroom by another teacher and students who attempted to save him as the shootings continued.
I recall a colleague in New York, Charles Deahl, and his automatic response that likely saved a student at Woodlands High School, where I was an Assistant Principal. Charles was a quiet English teacher and senior adviser who could step into any movie roll as Mark Twain, without makeup or voice coaching, and probably without a script. As he walked to his classroom after lunch, he observed a panicked group of students around a girl bent over the corner of a stairway handrail, trying to push her own abdomen onto the rail. He calmly walked behind her, performed a heimlich maneuver, pushed the obstruction out of her windpipe, checked to see that she was OK, sent her to the nurse with friends to be sure, sought no credit, and went on to teach his class. Most of the building heard nothing about his performance until observers made a point of highlighting his life-saving behavior.
This isn’t comparable to stepping between a gunman and a classroom of kids, but I know 60 of the 80 staff members, and perhaps all 80 of them in that building, would have stepped up in a similar emergency. The other 20 would have been leading and herding students to safety through hallways and stairways, following rehearsed evacuation routes and leading students to alternate routes if the nearest hallway was blocked. Teachers and administrators all over the country, without hesitation, act in crises to help their students first, and they do it all day and every day. We all know it’s a part of both our moral and our professional responsibility.
On the website Stop the Shootings you’ll find 387 school shootings in the US since 1992, and about half of the victims are adults. Reviewing the brief descriptions of each event will show that many were school administrators, teachers, or staff attempting to protect others or stop the shooter. This is what school people do.
I’m not surprised that educators and some parents, teacher unions, and a few administrative unions and professional associations are beginning to push back at the incessant droning on about “The Manufactured Crisis,” as David Berliner and Bruce Billed wrote about back in 1995. The mythology about America’s crisis continues to be parroted by pundits and profiteers today.
When will these folks thank their teachers for the selflessness displayed where and when devoted teachers are most needed?