Teacher Heroes

I didn’t want to send my kids to school this morning. After the shootings on Friday at Sandy Hook elementary, I suspect like many parents across the country I just wanted to keep my kids by my side and not let them out of my sight. With the horrifying news all over the media this weekend, I talked to our boys a little about what happened, mostly to assure them that they would be OK in their own school.

“Mr. Sikorski keeps your school very safe,” I told them. That’s their principal, and as I said it, I had to fight back tears thinking about the Sandy Hook principal who literally gave her life for her students. “Your teachers care about you and will keep you safe,” I reassured them. They seemed satisfied with my explanation and went out the door to the school bus this morning with confidence like any other day, but I could not get the image of teachers fighting for their students out of my head. These are the teachers we send our children off to every day, asking them to shape and nurture young minds. We never ask teachers to pledge their lives for our kids, but now we know what those trusted adults would do in the most terrifying of situations: an entire building of teachers and staff demonstrated just how clever, cunning, bold, fearless, and courageous they would be in defense of their students.

Reporter Dave Lindorff noted in a column yesterday that the Newtown, CT school board had a $1 million budget cutting plan last year and is currently debating eliminating the elementary school’s music and library programs. Yet those music and library teachers stayed with their students and protected them during the attack. And all of the Sandy Hook teachers are members of the American Federation of Teachers. [Nation of Change, 12-16-12]

There are far too many people in the current corporate-style reform movement pointing fingers at teachers and their unions, blaming them for all of our public education woes. (The head of Tea Party Nation actually just blamed “radical” teachers and unions for the Sandy Hook massacre itself. [Right Wing Watch, 12-17-12]) After a lecture I gave on our grassroots movement yesterday, someone in the audience came up to ask me, “But don’t we need to get rid of all the bad teachers?” Another person asked, “In light of Friday’s shooting, why aren’t you talking about the problem with school security?” Now we are hearing that the Sandy Hook shooter broke his way into the school and that the principal and staff had a well-rehearsed security plan. [Post-Gazette, 12-17-12]

When I look at our public schools, I do not see a security crisis (though surely schools ought to have a security plan and follow it). I do not see a crisis of bad teaching (though we surely ought to be offering “bad” teachers some assistance, and helping others to exit the profession when teaching is not their right life choice). I do not see a crisis of radical teachers or greedy teachers unions.

We surely have a crisis of gun control and mental health services in this country. But the real crisis in public education is about a lost belief in the public good. It’s a crisis of faith in the common good served by our schools. The forces of privatization feed on that lost faith, insisting that we close more neighborhood schools and hand others over to charter management companies, that we introduce more competition and choice, that we hold teachers and schools “accountable” for low student test scores by punishing them. It’s that lost faith that allows legislators to slash education budgets and forces school districts to eliminate music and library programs for our kids. When we stop believing in public education as a public good, we allow our public tax dollars to flow to private schools and giant international corporations while we demand more and more tests without asking if our students are really learning anything.

When I look at our schools, I see teachers heroically trying to teach our students – without the resources they need, with mind-numbing canned curricula and prepping for high-stakes testing forced upon them, in classrooms with ever larger numbers of kids. I’m pretty darn sure that the vast majority of our nation’s teachers are heroes every single day. That’s why I let my kids get on the bus this morning. And that’s why – even with tears running down my cheeks for those kids, those teachers, those families – I return to the fight for our public schools.


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12 thoughts on “Teacher Heroes

  1. I want your strength! You are the St. George of education in Pittsburgh– and I hope that soon a tidal wave of parents will join you in your quest to slay the evil dragon of NCLB, RTTT, and for-profit charters destroying public education under their noses. Luckily for them, my two oldest children spent most of their elementary and middle school days in the pre-No Child Left Behind days. They had a full time librarian who read them Greek myths, a school counselor who had lunch meetings to deal with conflicts between kids, a full time music teacher who taught them multi-cultural music,a science teacher who hatched chicks every year in her class, an arts-infused curriculum that incorporated Bruegel, Picasso, Monet and Haring into reading and social studies, the Heartwood curriculum that used wonderful picture books to build character into kids, a fourth grade teacher who taught sign language in class, a fifth grade teacher who did Shakespeare with her kids every year. They had a wonderful full time art teacher and a working kiln, time and room in the curricula for day time artists in residence who brought Pgh Symphony musicians in to co-teach, a poetry club that co-taught with teachers, a celebration of Langston Hughes’ birthday. I feel so sorry for parents today who don’t know that this kind of education is possible– was a norm just 15 years ago or so. I wish they had experienced it so they knew what they could expect– and would fight for. So many educators are leaving education. It is just too, too hard. I am one of those making plans to leave. I don’t have the heart to fight every day. But I am glad you do. And I hope parents wake up, get informed and demand change.

    • Sheila, you are very kind. But the thought of you leaving teaching is terrible. Teachers and parents must get in this fight together. Your stories are inspirational and we need your courageous voice!

  2. It is amazing to me that people who have been speaking disparagingly of teachers in recent months are suddenly suggesting that teachers be armed to prevent more school violence. I have been in several conversations via Facebook in which others have said that teachers should be demanding armed security guards at every school. The same people who are quick to cut education funding seem to think that money to pay armed guards is available. When I respond that we can’t even get books, pencils, or repairs for doors that don’t lock – much less a security guard – I am not believed!

    Jessie – it was hard for all of us today. Even those of us, like me, who get to work in the same building as their children. It is, sadly, not the first time I have thought about my plan for keeping students safe in such an event. I wish we lived in a world where we did not have to make these “what if” kind of plans in our minds. What I do know is that all of the teachers I know would do the same things that the Sandy Hook teachers did. When they are in are care, we are their substitute parents. We try to live up to that.

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  4. Thank you for this post!
    Jane’s comments reminded me of the many times, in my home, when I would tell my own children (who attended the school where I teach) that should anything ever happen at our school – they needed to listen to their teachers and NOT worry about me, because I would be busy taking care of my students. . I trust my children’s teachers to care for my children in an emergency in the same way that I care for my students.
    While we have never experienced the horror of Sandy Hook, we were once evacuated for a natural gas leak. My focus, my concern was for the children in my room. Once we were safely evacuated, I found my own children exactly where they were supposed to be because of their teachers’ focus and concern for them.

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  9. I am a second grade teacher in Connecticut. Thank you for your wonderful words of support for teachers. I have received some nice emails from grateful parents since the tragedy in Newtown. The rheeformers do not understand how much parents do support their public schools. I wish more parents would speak out against all the teacher bashing we hear. I know of no one who went into this profession for the money of for “summers off”.

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