BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs has witnessed nearly every kind of world event as a television network news correspondent over three decades. Yet he is particularly struck by the heroism of teachers across America.
We all too often forget who the real heroes are. Even when we see them right before our eyes in places like Moore, Okla., and Newtown, Conn. We see them, but somehow don’t call them what they are: heroes. Probably because they’re just common folks, like the rest of us. Heroes, after all, are supposed to be bigger than life.
Yet some of the heroes in Moore and Newtown look like they could live next door. Because in effect, they do. They are teachers. Teachers, who became heroes in Moore, and Newtown, and many other places where children have been defenseless.
And that’s a problem, because in our celebrity-centric society, the wrong people are treated like heroes and the right ones aren’t. Ask some average Americans who their heroes are — as I have — and you’ll get cringe-worthy answers. They’ll describe sports stars (who only throw a good ball or swing a good bat) as their heroes. Movie stars, who only put on costumes and makeup and play a heroic role, are idolized as heroes too.
It’s bizarre. What’s worse, it cheapens the word. Heroism, by my definition, means you take a risk, you sacrifice your security, to help someone else. Not to line your pockets. Not to entertain an impressionable public. But to change a life. Sometimes to save one.
When we see soldiers fighting for our flag overseas, when we see police confronting criminals at home, when we see common citizens rushing in to harm’s way to help people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time — a bombing at a marathon, a tornado in Oklahoma — that’s when we really see heroes.
But teachers — a special class of hero — are still generally unsung. Overlooked. Oh, we have taken note of their courage, and of the lives they’ve saved. But do we actually think to ourselves, “You know, these people are the real heroes here?” I don’t think so.
In Oklahoma during the tornado, and in Connecticut during the December shooting rampage, teachers showed courage and kept the carnage from being even worse. How many stories have you read about teachers laying on top of their students while the tornado took its toxic twists across their city? Children there are alive today because of them. Who can forget the principal and the teachers during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary who faced down the gunman, and died doing it? Children there are alive today, too, because of them.
I’ll never forget a story about a teacher I know who, if not literally heroic, deserved a medal. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, after the second tower in New York got hit, her husband told her she might as well stay home because none of the parents would even think of sending their children to school after what had happened. But she went, just in case her husband was wrong.
And was he ever! Every single student showed up. Every single parent had left it to the teacher to explain the terror on that dreadful day. And every other teacher in the school was there, too, doing the same thing.
I won’t be surprised if some Americans, whose knee-jerk opinion about teachers is to paint them all with a broad bad brush, keep blaming them for the sub-standard performance of many American students, as if negligent parents and shrinking budgets and violent media don’t bear some of the blame. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised.
True, some teachers are better than others. But I wish that after watching acts of heroism by schoolteachers who aren’t paid to be heroic, more Americans would stop and realize it is consistent with why they go into that business in the first place. They like children. They work to help children. They try to improve children’s lives. And when a threat presents itself, they even save children’s lives. Sometimes at the risk, even the cost, of their own.
Greg’s column originally appeared in The Denver Post. Used by permission.