In the wake of recent events in Newtown, Connecticut, I find it quite fitting to chime in and provide another perspective in the hopes of encouraging people to understand the crucial role that teachers play in and outside of the classroom. This may not be the best time to convince career seekers to pursue a path in education, but now more than ever our schools need bold and fearless educators and administrators at the helm. At this very moment, there are many prospective applicants embarking on a new teaching career. Some have just completed Praxis exams, degree programs, or met the requirements to be fully certified. Others have recently accepted long-term substitute assignments in the hopes of becoming a full-fledged faculty member. While there are many that are eager to begin the journey, I am sure there are some who are having doubts since the horrific event in Connecticut.
Since Columbine, one of the worst school massacres in U.S. history, a culture of fear around education is slowly on the rise. There have been a multitude of mass school shootings around the country: Red Lake Senior High in 2005, Amish school house in Lancaster, PA in 2006, Virginia Tech in 2007; and Chardon High School, Oikos University and Sandybrook Elementary, all in 2012. After reading the timeline of mass shootings since Columbine, some concern is understandable, especially if you are an aspiring or current educator.
Essentially, we may all face unknown moments of fear and trepidation in our day-to-day lives. Once you step outside the perceived security net of your humble abode, there is possible danger at every corner. When families dropped their children off at school on that dreadful morning in Connecticut, and when teachers pulled into their parking spots, there was no way to determine, sense, or predict the evil that unraveled.
I recall sharing “scary” stories with family and friends in my former career as an educator and dodging incessant recommendations to choose another profession. Their thoughts – schools are dangerous, but this is exactly the type of thinking we don’t need. Now more than ever is the time to be bold and proclaim that the job will get done. While I refuse to be caught up in the political rhetoric about gun control versus mental health, and parent responsibility versus young adult accountability, the simple truth is that we need teachers now more than ever.
In my seven years as an educator, I never imagined having to kick off my heels and run after a student to save his life. This one particular day my colleagues and I, possessed a sense of selflessness, not taught in college. His name was Louis (name changed), and he was a feisty fireball rolled into a five-year old’s body. With a wonderful personality and kind demeanor, it was hard to believe that this young person had me running through the halls as if I were a trained Olympian. Louis was considered a classified student due to his behavior issues and was placed in a small self-contained classroom. His usual tendencies were to act out unexpectedly by throwing tantrums, being physically or even verbally abusive to classmates and teachers. A good day consisted of only yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs. Today, however, was not the usual good day for Louis. His teacher decided he needed a “cool” down period in the office. The teacher instructed the classroom aid to escort Louis down the hall to my office.
What happened next was the most terrifying yet uplifting three minutes of my career. In between the classroom and my office, Louis decided to break away from the aid holding his hand and make a run for it. This run was not totally unexpected. Every now and then, he would run circles around the first floor of the building until someone was able to restrain him. But on this particular day, Louis had another plan.
Louis made a dash for the exit and headed out of the school doors. I immediately received word on my radio and in an instant I, along with the principal and designated staff, made a desperate dash to the exits. I kicked off my heels and made dust in the wind. As I bolted outside, I hoped and prayed that Louis had not darted in the street into oncoming traffic. The thought of having to make a phone call home to a parent with such tragic news was unfathomable. I rounded the building and noticed that another staff member was clinging to Louis’ arm while on the sidewalk. She stopped just in time. It was a scary moment, but the five adults who were outside breathing intensely did not have second thoughts about running headfirst into danger in order to save Louis’ life.
Selflessness resides in the character of every good educator because they know that caring for other people’s children for more than eight hours is no trivial matter. In these moments many educators go above and beyond to not only educate children, but to discipline, comfort, counsel, feed, chase, calm and help each child to foster their strengths and believe in themselves. Aspirational attributes of a good teacher are not taught in college or recognizable on a test. It is evident in the instinctual actions and ability to handle the unpredictable.
Teachers and other public servants put their lives on the line everyday to ensure the safety of America’s children. This should be lauded recognized and heralded. This should be the conversation when someone speaks of fear. It is sad that we lost those young innocent lives, but there could have been more if Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto had not possessed a sense of selflessness. I am grateful and proud.
How has the Connecticut shooting changed your conversation? Scroll down to comment.