Americans understandably had a variety of reactions to the horrifying news of yet another mass shooting, this time at a school, on Friday. My own was at first complete horror—but, as for many of us, it slowly solidified into a resolve to do something concrete to stop the rising tide of mass shootings. What’s to be done to shield our children (and ourselves) from random violence such as this? Some have argued that arming teachers—indeed, arming as many individual citizens as possible—will make us safe. Others reacted by advocating that parents homeschool their children.
I can understand the motivation behind both reactions. This sort of violence is inherently random. The best protection often seems to be to do whatever you can to make yourself, and your children, as safe as possible. If that means owning a gun (or many), in the theory that you can stop any violence heading your way, so be it. If that means taking your children out of schools, which have become targets of violence, so be it.
But this is not the time for going further down the individualist path, for cutting ourselves off from the community we live in. This is exactly the time when we need to reinvest in what we can only do collectively, as a community. We need to come together in ways that can begin to respond to the horror visited upon Sandy Hook.
Accounts may eventually change, but as it stands now it seems appropriate to call many of the Sandy Hook teachers heroes, both those who survived and those who lost their lives. The body of Anne Marie Murphy was found covering those of her students in a final act to try to save them. Current reports say that the principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach ran into the hallway toward a hail of gunfire. Victoria Soto hid her students and then reportedly told the attacker that they were in the gym. Other teachers ushered their students into hiding places and kept them as quiet and calm as possible while the chaos was unfolding outside their doors.
These are the public school teachers who we so often vilify as lazy, overpaid and entitled. Yet these enormous acts of bravery reflect the smaller acts of everyday selflessness that comes with the job. They are not trained to run toward gunfire like police officers, but some of them did so on instinct anyway. I wasn’t surprised. Having taught first grade myself, I know that it’s hard to start, let alone stay, in that job without an overwhelming passion for serving the next generation. Teachers educate and shape our children, but we show our value of this service by paying elementary school teachers just $51,000 a year at the median, even though most positions require a Master’s degree.
In the wake of this stark reminder of not only how much trust we put in teachers to protect and develop our children, but how well so many of them respond to that call, we can better value them by remembering how much they sacrifice in efforts to reform our education system. We can better value these public servants with more respect and, yes, more pay.