Thoughts on Teachers and Newtown, CT

This is from

[Updated to addAndrew Revkin shares more on Soto’s colleagues Kaitlin Roig  and Maryrose Kristopik: “Kaitlin Roig locked her students in the bathroom and kept them safe, while Victoria Soto was trying to do the same when she came face-to-face with the gunman and was shot, execution style. Maryrose Kristopik barricaded her music students in a closet, while the gun man fought to get in.” Roig and Kristopik survived, thankfully.]

I spent a little time thinking about Soto and her colleagues this morning. I’ve known quite a few grade school teachers over the years. Until 2009, I was married to one. And I realized as I was thinking about Soto that there’s not a single one of those grade school teachers I’ve known, my ex- emphatically included, who I could imagine doing anything but jumping between the gunman and his or her students.

I know that’s an argument from incredulity. I know teachers are human beings, and human beings freeze up when they’re frightened. But I’ve also seen the sacrifices grade school teachers make on days the media don’t notice. Over and over, day in and day out, with no hope of any relief outside of leaving the job.

And for this they get to be one of the most denigrated groups of professionals in the United States, targeted every single goddamn year for one “reform” after another, vouchers from the fundies and charter schools from the liberals,  forced by law to take every spark of individuality and interest out of their curricula and then blamed when their students lose interest, resented their pensions and their health care by people who then blame them when their kids turn out to be apathetic.

Once the media horror dies down about Soto and her co-workers’ sacrifices, I guarantee you this: public school grade school teachers will go right back to being the despised class. “Union thugs.” “With three-month vacations.” “Teaching kids their ABCs.” All the idiotic, ill-informed, right wing anti-intellectual myths will rev up again as if nothing had happened. And in the meantime the people the Fox pundits despise will go on teaching kids to read and do math and treat each other with respect.

In other words, it’s not really that much of a jump to imagine all the teachers I know instinctively taking a bullet to protect their kids. To a first approximation, every single one of them does the same thing every waking moment, giving up their lives by increment to give their students a chance at a better life.

I don’t at all mean to trivialize the sacrifice Soto and her colleagues made by comparing it to, say, having to buy pencils on your own dime because the Republicans cut your district’s budget even further. What I’m saying is that given the kind of peson who chooses to remain in the profession despite all the sacrifice and opprobrium because they want to help kids, Soto’s tragic sacrifice isn’t in the least surprising. It’s what teachers do.

So I just thought I’d take a moment to thank those of you reading this who are, or who have been, grade school teachers for your routine heroism. We don’t recognize it enough.


Let me anticipate a likely semi-trollish objection: yes, there are grade school teachers who should not be teaching. Yes, there are burned out seat warmers. Yes, there are people teaching subjects they’re not really qualified to teach. Yes, there are the occasional people who shouldn’t be around children at all. If our society valued teachers the way teachers as a class deserve, such people wouldn’t be there. The incompetent and the abusive would never make the cut, and the burned-out would be far less burned out.

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 12:40 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s a shame that you had to write this and you spoke for me. Yes, I would jump between a gunman and my students. But, why has it come to this. The “trollish” response at the end may be one of the reasons – people in glass houses are always throwing stones. This topic is a particular focus of mine. Please join the Brady Campaign. Thanks


  2. I am a college teacher with four children who all attended public schools from kindergarten through high school. I am deeply grateful for the wonderful teachers and principals who taught my children. There were definitely a few “bad apples.” But even those few, I believe, would have given their lives without question to protect my child. Those few teachers who for whatever reason were not teaching at their best were still decent human beings who were in a tough job and who had not gone into it, God knows, for either money or prestige. I wonder at the hypocrisy of people who will heartily join in lauding the unquestionable heroism of the teachers at Sandy Hook and yet will revile the teachers in the public school down the street from their own house.


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