I do not have live TV, only Apple TV, and sometimes, like this week, when a tornado devastates a town, I am very grateful for that. Grateful to not bare witness to the images; reading the description of a father, sitting on a stool, crying, with no word about his young eight year old boy was enough for me. I had to stop reading.
The week before I found myself obsessed with the stories of the Ariel Castro. I would wake up at three in the morning and check the news feed on my phone to see if anyone knew anything more. If the images created in my mind from a Twitter feed haunt me, I am sure as hell not going to watch TV.
Sad things happen. Tragedy happens. And I guess we each have to decide how to let that sit with us, to decide if we are moved to action or withdrawal or ambivalence. I will say this though. Facebook posts in which people say things like, “I cannot imagine . . . ” Well, that just drives me bat shit crazy. Fact is, you can imagine. And it is awful.
So, Oklahoma, like much of the rest of the nation, you are in my heart tonight, in my imaginings, and I truly do flood you with empathy. But as a teacher, I am finding myself incredibly irritated, without really fully understanding why, at all of the articles about “praise-be-to-the-hero-teachers” that I am seeing.
Here’s the thing. If you are a sane, compassionate adult and you find yourself in a room full of children who are in immediate danger, you are likely going to try to soothe them, to protect them, to distract them, to lead them, to reassure them. It is human nature. This is not heroism or bravery and even if it IS those things, they are only a small fraction of the things that go into making a good teacher a great one and it is relatively pathetic that it takes a deadly tornado or a mass shooting to make anyone notice that there is a hero in the room. What was the alternative in this situation? Flee the school and let the kids figure it out? Hide oneself under a desk and shout, “Hey kids, protect me?”
Teaching is emotional and complex and all consuming. The highs are high. The lows suck. On any given day, your child’s teachers words can forever change how they see themselves. I am, of course, proud of those teachers in Oklahoma, proud of the educators in Newtown, but I am also proud of these teachers:
Mrs. Lee, who, when Luke was seven, turned her class into a Beatnik poetry room, where kids played bongos, served coffees, and read odes.
Mrs. Loder, who eased my daughter’s transition away from her public school friends, to a Montessori environment.
Mrs. Fleege, who undid all of the public school damage done to Luke, who taught William to go to school without holding his hands over his face all day and crying (which he did for a year).
Mr. Grennier, who believed so much in Luke that he had his girlfriend save up all of her cereal boxtops to buy Luke a Spiderman watch so that Luke could feel mighty.
Sr. Carol, my tenth grade English teacher, who let me perform my research papers instead of write them, which I did, dressed all in black, to the song “Here Comes a Regular.” This was my most memorable and powerful day of high school.
Mrs. Baker, who taught me to love and to forgive mean girls named Megan.
Mrs. Burrell, who read Ordinary People with me and gave me the confidence to keep writing.
Mrs. Fritsche, Julio Pabon, Ms. Pearce. Mrs. Namboothiry. Ms. Kearns.
Sara Cortichato, who stayed after school every single night of Luke’s freshman year, to help him pass Algebra.
Kristi Koshuta, who has taken my D- math kid and turned him into an A student.
Mr. Dale, who wrote the most amazing letter of recommendation for Luke that I seriously considered wallpapering the house with it, until it got too soggy from my tears to see the words anymore. . . .
My father, who taught me everything there is to know about writing.
My mother, who picked my crumpled up home test for admissions to School of the Visual Arts and mailed it in despite me, which resulted in a full ride scholarship. She never said, “I told you so.”
I can list teacher after teacher after teacher. None of them ever had to throw their body on top of mine to save me. They saved me in every other way.