I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Proud To Teach

Like every public school teacher in America, I have trained and drilled on my school's response to the unthinkable. I'm guessing I'm like most teachers: I've rolled my eyes a bit when the fire drill sounds right in the middle of my carefully crafted lesson. I mean, I know this is stuff is important, and I know we need to prepare for the worst, but I've got a concert coming up in two weeks! Do we really have to run a "Code Black" drill now? Seriously, what are the odds? Columbine was a once in a lifetime event...

And so now we teachers are all faced with the reality that we run these drills over and over again because the worst case scenario actually can happen.

I'm not going to get into the gun rights issue here - at least, not for now. There are people who are far better informed about the policy and the politics surrounding gun control; there's nothing that I can add to the discussion that's worth your time at this moment. 

Let me, instead, remind all of you a terrible truth:

The last adult who tried to protect the twenty (dear God, twenty...) beautiful children who died yesterday was their teacher.

Twenty sets of parents - maybe single parents, maybe couples, maybe step parents - twenty sets of parents literally put the lives of their children into the hands of a teacher. Those wonderful teachers literally died because they were will willing to take on the awesome responsibility of caring for and protecting twenty wonderful, precious, innocent lives during the time they were in school.

I know yesterday was an outlier. Yes, what happened is happening more frequently - and we'd better damn well do something about it - but it's not even remotely a normal occurrence. No one signs up to be a teacher thinking they will have to put their lives on the line to protect their students. I would never make the equation between teaching and public safety or law enforcement or the military. The people who put on badges and stripes and helmets are the best of us and brave beyond any reckoning.

But there is a quiet bravery that is required to accept the challenge of taking the most valuable thing in a parent's life under your care. And while the consequences of accepting this responsibility almost never rise to the level of yesterday, there is a price to be paid for all teachers when they agree to take the job. We are held to a higher standard in our personal and professional lives because what we do is so very important.

The teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary were heroes yesterday and their praises should be sung far and wide. But there are small acts of bravery and integrity that teachers perform every day in schools across this country that we never see and rarely stop to think about.

Reporting suspected abuse. Standing up to an administrator who refuses to reconsider a poor decision. Confronting a parent who refuses to see his child has a need that is not being met. Demanding a colleague not suffer for being outspoken in her beliefs. Publicly calling out a bullying politician who ignorantly bashes public schools. Reaching out to a student who is heading down the wrong path with drugs or violence. Holding a little hand.

These acts and many more like them are the heart and soul of a school. They cannot be measured by test scores or Value-Added Models or observation rubrics. They are acts of conscience that are undertaken by those who are willing to give of themselves on behalf of other people's hopes and dreams.

I've spent a lot of time here bashing the teacher-bashers. I've done so because I find it offensive that ignorant non-practioners would dare to foist the blame for many of society's problems on to the people who take up the challenge of educating children. I am infuriated when teachers are ignored and these pampered mercenaries are given a position front-and-center in our media. I find it hypocritical beyond belief that these mouthpieces for the plutocracy run around averring their love for teachers while simultaneously fighting to cut our compensation, implement merit pay schemes that all the evidence shows will not work, gut our workplace protections, and blame us for problems that are simply not our fault.

I have been remiss, however, in building the case for the nobility and importance of public school teaching. Not because good teachers raise test scores or help our economy, but because good teachers are good people. Yes, there are bad teachers, and they should be removed from their positions. Let us deal with that; we can handle that just fine ourselves, thank you very much.

But we are the ones who understand, better than anyone else, the importance of what we do. We don't ask for much: a decent middle-class wage, some autonomy, reasonable accountability, and respect. Give us these things, and we promise that we will take care of your children. We will fight for them and care for them as if they were are own. Because they are our own.

I am proud to be an American public school teacher.

ADDING: More on the heroic efforts of Sandy Hook Elementary's teachers. God bless their families. (h/t Lisa Fleisher via Twitter)


Victoria Soto, American Hero

First-grade teacher Vicki Leigh Soto, 27 years old, died trying to protect the children she loved, her cousin Jim Wiltsie said.
When the gunfire started on Friday morning, she gathered her students and tried to hide them in a classroom closet, officials told her family.
“In doing so, she put herself between the kids and the gunman’s bullets,” said Mr. Wiltsie, who is a police officer. “That is how she was found. Huddled with her children.” He said he didn’t know if her students were among the dead.
She was just a kid herself. Dear God.


Donvila said...

Truly beautiful. My hands are shaking as I type these words.

be careful said...


Can you look at the Rhee statement and her inability to acknowledge the teachers,. See here from Ravitch:

Cosmic Tinkerer
December 16, 2012 at 1:47 am
Thanks for pointing this out. I found Rhee’s statement here: http://www.studentsfirst.org/pages/michelle-rhee-statement-school-shooting-tragedy-in-newton-connecticut

I think it’s shameful that Rhee completely ignored the heroic acts of all the Sandy Hook educators who put the safety of their students’ lives before their own, and that she exploited this tragedy, in order to take another swipe at schools and promote her cause. (It also sounds like an underhanded plea for more donations to her organization.)

I left this angry message on their contact us tab. How dare she exploit this tragedy:

Could you even include one sentence to recognize the educators who died, to recognize their commitment to children, to acknowledge what teachers do everyday…the union, collective bargaining kind?

You include a self promoting statement about your mission, which is nothing more than the destruction of our PUBLIC schools. YOU, Michelle, make this about your pathetic, self promoting, back stabbing, privatizing mission.

P.S. Don’t dare record this message as a supporter of your “grassroots” scheme…we know all about your deceptive tricks.

technoteacher said...

Thank you for your blog. You are an inspiration us all.

Xian Franzinger Barrett said...

Beautiful piece.

I would add that some educators pick our environment knowing full well that we may be putting our lives on the line.

That's not to be argumentative but to augment your vital point of this piece.

Thank you so much for your work!

Rod viquez said...

Wonder if the nj.com crowd will still say cops and teachers are overpaid leeches?

Unknown said...

Hi Jazzman,
Here is the message I sent to my UTK pre-service teachers about the nature of educators with a link to a very special teacher-blogger :)

Hi Students,
I don't have the words to express how deeply saddened I am about the terrible tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Fri. If you learn nothing else from our class, I hope you realize the immense courage and commitment it takes to teach all children in our public schools. Every day that you walk into your classroom you become the first protector and nurturer for your students. The principal and teachers who died in that horrible rampage exemplify the pure soul of great educators unmotivated by money, power, and prestige. No one is talking about their VAM scores today. I've attached a link to a teacher blogger from NJ who eloquently writes about his pride in choosing the teaching profession:


Remember: Teaching is not rocket science. It's HARDER than rocket science.

Sally said...

Hi Jazzman,

I found you through Diane Ravitch, and I'm glad I did. Very good points about this horrible tragedy. I'm hoping if anything good comes from this devastation, it might be a new respect for teachers. Honestly, I don't know any teacher, including myself, who wouldn't do what Victoria Soto did. Our students are family to us, we would take a bullet to protect them.

Sally from Elementary Matters

Duke said...

Thanks, everyone.

jcg, your student-teachers are lucky to have you.