Sunday, December 16, 2012

Teacher heroes

Like everyone else Friday, December 14, 2012, I watched the events unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newton, Connecticut. I felt the same horror as everyone else at the carnage and loss of life. For me it was more personal, though, even though the shootings were a couple of thousand miles from me; my feelings are due to my longtime association with schools.

For over 30 years it was my job to visit schools, to deliver and pick up mail, a necessity even in a technological age. Daily I went to 30 schools. At no time in all those years, in all of those thousands of visits to schools did I ever encounter any danger or feel threatened. There’s a complacency that comes about in a well-ordered society, and that means the school system in general and school buildings in particular. So it’s always a shock to me when a school is violated by violent crime.

When I began hearing the tales of heroism from within Sandy Hook Elementary, teachers protecting their students, the principal “lunging” at the assailant and getting shot for her bravery, I thought of the chaos and panic that was going on, and yet, within that chaos there was order, and priorities carried out by teachers and staff. Teachers went into lockdown, which is what they have been taught to do in the aftermath of other school shootings. Herd the kids into an area, then lock doors, close window shades, hopefully discourage a killer stalking through the building from coming into the room. Don’t be an easy target.

I thought about the many principals and teachers with whom I associated all those years. Teachers are sadly taken for granted by the public — they’re even take for granted by their own bosses at the top of the school district  — but teachers are a special breed of people. In circumstances like the Sandy Hook killings we find out how really special they are.

I’m sure that this weekend school administrators have been busy with public safety officials in meetings in every school district in the country to discuss what happened, and how to prevent it from happening in their schools. On Monday morning teachers will be showing up for work like they always do, but heavy on their minds the grim thought that somewhere there are copycat killers who envy killer Adam Lanza. The wannabe killers aren’t thinking of kids as victims, but targets, and through those targets a way to make a name for themselves, to live in notoriety. Formerly anonymous young men who feel insignificant, now with the possibility of having their name and murderous deeds all over the news. It will be those as yet unknown killers that teachers or school administrators will be fearing: What if one of them comes through the door, armed with an assault rifle?

As time goes on, and if there are no more incidents around the country, there will be some relaxing. Christmas break is just around the corner. The kids in the schools will be more excited about what Santa Claus will bring them than worried about a killer assaulting them. And they should be.

We expect a lot from teachers, but we don’t often think of them as heroes in the traditional sense. I’m sure it isn’t anything any of them would want to be called because of what it would mean to be put into that position. Because of my longtime association with educators, when I heard about how kids in Newtown, Connecticut were saved because of the quick actions of their teachers I wasn’t one bit surprised.

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