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Patty Kleban: Teacher Bravery in the Wake of the Newtown Elementary School Shooting

by on December 17, 2012 7:37 AM

There are almost no words. The tragedy in Connecticut is almost too much for the mind to process. As the authorities unravel the events of this past Friday, the rest of the country mourns along with the Sandy Hook elementary school families and with their community.

We will seek solutions but those solutions must be free of politics and agendas. In the next days and weeks and months, as conversations about school security and gun regulations and video games and mental health abound, we will attempt to find logic and reason where there is evil and insanity.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani paralleled this tragedy with the horrors of 9/11. “We may eventually be able to explain this but we can’t understand it. “

As I watched the news coverage, I reflected on the teachers. I watched in awe as the reports of incredible bravery and heroism of those elementary school teachers and staff likely saved the lives of so many children.

The teacher who heard the shots, pulled children from the hallway, locked the door and had her students read quietly. The teacher who pulled a group into a bathroom and asked the children to be silent but not before telling them that she loved them. The teacher who refused to open the locked door to the madman or even the police until they slid their IDs under the door. The teachers who waited at the fire station with their students, waiting for parents, when their inclination was probably to hurry home to their own families.

As we have seen in other similar school incidents, the teachers and school employees were heroes.

As a mother, I watched the news in horror. I thought about the parents and the siblings but also the teachers. When human instinct was undoubtedly to flee, the teachers stayed to protect their students.

I thought about the teachers who have impacted our family. I thought about the preschool teachers who started my children on their paths to learning. Mrs. Scheetz, who never raised her voice. Mrs. Eng who held the hand of a very sad boy. I thought about Mrs. Dobash, the teacher who had all three of our little kindergarteners. Mrs. Poehner had one of our girls two years in a row and patiently managed holiday excitement with kindness. Mrs. Abrams helped our second grader get over her jitters. I thought about Mr. Kauffman and Mr. Shirk and Mr. Ammerman who were incredible male role models for our young learners. Mrs. Hartman helped us teach a valuable lesson about looking at someone else’s paper. Mrs. Witmer helped us navigate the differences in learning styles between the boys and girls in our house.

And, that was a just a few of our elementary school teachers. The impact of teachers as our kids wandered the awkward landscape of middle school and responded to the pressures of high school helped my children become the amazing young adults of which I am so proud.

Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic is so often a small part of the gifts that our teachers give our children.

But saving their lives? The decision to go into teaching is one that I believe is similar to a religious calling. A willingness to devote one’s life to children, while dealing with administration, parents, budget cuts, political correctness and increasing pressures to “make the grades” makes teaching different than other careers. Because of the strange nature of public education, teachers have to perform their jobs under the scrutiny of parents, elected officials, taxpayers and critics who say “you don’t work all day and you get summers off.” Yeah right.

So often our community conversations about education are about union contracts and budgets. We talk about test scores, class size, facilities and extra-curriculars. Lost in those conversations sometimes are the people to whom we entrust our children six or eight hours per day.

In Columbine, Colo. and Paducah, Kentucky and Chardon, Ohio, to name just a few of these horror stories, it was teachers who made the difference.

As our country responds to yet another tragedy caused by a disenfranchised, disturbed individual, we will probably hear calls for more security in our schools. We will ask our teachers to do more. Behavior Management. Discipline. Risk Management. Social work. Counseling. Band-aids and bandaging hurt feelings. How to respond in a classroom under siege.

Somewhere in there, we also expect them to teach.

As we prepare for this holiday season and for gatherings with friends and family, our fellow Americans in Connecticut need our thoughts and our prayers. The families, the first responders, the community and their children - our nation’s children - have lost so much.

We thank our teachers for keeping our children safe.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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