The tragic shootings in Newtown have given us all a heavy dose of grief, as we contemplate the horror of twenty young lives snuffed out, and the loss of six brave educators.
As we have read of the heroic behavior of the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook, there has also been reflection on the awesome responsibility we take on when we are teaching children. Parents entrust us with their children not just to teach them their ABCs, but also to nurture them as human beings, and in rare cases such as Friday in Newtown, to protect their very lives. The professional preparations and quick response by principal and staff likely averted more deaths, we are learning now.
But the most compelling image is this one. The principal and school psychologist were meeting with parents in the office. When shots were fired, the educators headed out into the hall, where the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was shot dead as she lunged at the shooter.
These career educators are our heroes.
Public schools have been under political assault for more than a decade, accused of dooming our nation to economic failure, and put in jeopardy by waves of reforms built on faulty assumptions and unreliable rating systems. We have not, as a profession, stood up and confronted these attacks, (with a few exceptions.)
Our schools have been portrayed as hapless and ineffective, and teachers themselves have been portrayed as selfish and over-privileged.
Last Friday a random individual walked into a random school - not chosen for the bravery of its teachers. And those teachers responded heroically. They were all women. That matters. They were all union members. That matters. They were all career educators. That matters as well.
These things all matter because when people die, we seek meaning from the tragedy. We want to understand, not only why Adam Lanza went crazy, and why he had access to an arsenal of firepower. We also want to understand how the adults responsible for the lives of those children responded. As teachers, we pause for a moment to reflect - what would I do in that situation? And when the answer comes back to us - yes, I would do as they did, there is a dawning realization that these teachers were amazing, but that they do indeed represent us, and the choices we have made to be educators.
I think this shooting is going to be a turning point in several big ways. First of all, there must be a huge shift in perception of public school teachers. You cannot hold the idea of teacher as selfish public employee with tenure for life at the same time you are thinking of selfless nurturer and protector of children. Second, and perhaps more importantly, teachers are making a shift in how we think of ourselves. If we can stand up to the bullets of assassins, surely we can stand up to politicians who are threatening to wreck our schools with their misconceived reforms.
The binary view of teachers as either saviors or sinners is inaccurate. We are far more complex than that. There ARE some teachers that should leave the classroom, and even good teachers are not always saintly. We must escape this dichotomy - but for the time being, it is nice that the selfish teacher image has been challenged in such a compelling way.
The ‘reformers’ are apparently well aware of the danger this poses to their storyline. Some of them are tweeting at anyone who dares mention that these were union teachers, demanding that we not “politicize” the tragedy. TFA leader David Rosenberg even demanded Diane Ravitch retract her post when she pointed out the dissonance between the heroism of the Sandy Hook educators and the caricature of the lazy, uncaring teacher put forth by the reformers. But we need our heroes, including Diane, and we need the inspiration they give us to face the continuing, unfair attacks on our schools, our profession, and our unions. The Sandy Hook educators bravely stood up to an assault on their school. Let’s follow their example and stand up to the continuing assaults on our public schools by the so-called education reformers who want to privatize them.
We elevate these educators because they represent our aspirations for ourselves. They demonstrate what we seek to do as public school educators and as union members. We claim our heroes. They stood up to an assault on their school.
What do you think? Are we thinking of teachers differently as a result of the heroism of the Sandy Hook educators?
Continue the dialogue with me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.