Last week the words "I'd take a bullet …" gained new meaning when a young Connecticut teacher did just that, giving her life trying to protect the children in her class from a monster with a gun.
I read what she and other educators at Sandy Hook Elementary did and my tears kept flowing. Having been a teacher for more than 30 years, most of those in elementary schools, I've known hundreds of teachers who would have done precisely the same. For most of us, when we walked into the classroom, everything about children — from their education to their happiness and safety — became paramount. Our personal safety felt far less important.
I remember the early days of my teaching in east Tennessee, where our biggest threats were storms that raced over the mountains through the Cherokee National Forest, bringing winds that would topple first-graders like dominos if they stepped outside.
Once, the wind was so strong it shifted the roof of the gym off the supporting walls, as kids participated in physical education class several feet below. Teachers stood in the middle of the gym and calmly directed children to safety in a corridor — the teacher being the last to leave the gym with a roof that could have crashed any second.
I encountered a much different threat at one elementary school in Pasco County. I once cracked down on a student who had fashioned a rubber band and a straightened, sharpened paper clip into a crude bow and arrow, which he used to pelt his classmates in the ankles. His mother grew upset with me for disciplining her son. She threatened to hide behind trees and "pick you off anytime" as I escorted children along the outside corridors to activities and lunch.
As a precaution, we changed our routes for taking students to their activities, but we carried on as usual.
In my 30 years as a teacher, I never encountered an instructor who didn't put the well-being and safety of the children first. Most will stand against the multitudes in support of and in protection of kids — even those little ones who sometimes leave us in despair as we wonder how to help them change a course of bad behavior or poor decision making. They, too, get our security and protection.
As the threats changed over the years, so did the precautions at school. We'd always practiced fire drills and tornado drills, soothing little ones when they didn't understand why they were sitting in a crouched position for a long time as threatening skies loomed. Those were trying times, but nothing like "lockdown" practice that came in the 1990s as school shootings evolved into a threat.
We tried to grasp how we'd really react to a crazed shooter bursting into a classroom. Like the Connecticut teachers, we practiced lockdowns, internalizing a protocol followed by the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary: secure the door, huddle the children away from open areas, block the windows, calm and reassure the children they are safe and wait for security to come to the room.
I've read what those teachers did. I remember practicing it many times, and my heart has ached for that school and community where life changed forever in a short few minutes. If there's any good to learn from the event, it is that the teachers were well prepared and first responders came quickly, cutting short a rampage that would have stolen more lives.
I know so many teachers in Pasco County, including my own daughter, who is a kindergarten teacher at Oakstead Elementary. And no matter what unfavorable reports glare on a school's academic performance, no matter what negative focus there is on curriculum and state mandated testing, and regardless of continuous reports of a troubling and tight budget, there is still one area where parents can rest assured: Pasco County is filled with good and caring teachers who, in a moment of crisis, would gather children close, tell them they are loved and, if the time comes, would stand between kids and an armed madman and take a bullet.