In Praise of Teachers – A Higher Calling

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.

ennifer Doan, a teacher at Plaza Towers elementary school, is pulled out from under tornado debris at the school in Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013.

Jennifer Doan, a teacher at Plaza Towers elementary school, is pulled out from under tornado debris at the school in Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013.

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.

Greg Dobbs

Greg Dobbs

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.

3 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you, Greg, what a wonderful post and such a necessary one! Too many people forget how important teachers are, indeed, they are indispensable to the mental and moral health of our society!

    You have no idea how saddened I was by a recent story published in the New York Times, about a young Portuguese woman who had trained to become a teacher – that’s all she dreamed of, it is truly a calling, like being a doctor – and then, as she graduated, school hiring was cut. All because of the austerity policy measures imposed on Portugal by the European Union and the European Central Bank (both prodded by Germany),measures designed to cut back on government debt and required by the Brussels pundits to justify bailout. Along with her, 40,000 school teaching jobs were cut, seriously undermining Portugal’s future (without a well-educated youth, no country has a chance in this competitive, globalized world). We are dealing here with a “lost generation”: that young girl left behind her dream of becoming a teacher and today she is an immigrant in Switzerland, cleaning other people’s houses…

    Now that’s a clever way to use a country’s resources! Small wonder Southern Europe is suffering under Brussels-imposed austerity, and that story of the Portuguese would-be school teacher can be multiplied a thousand times for young, educated people in Greece and Spain, not to mention Italy where I live, where expenditures for schools and universities are also cut back because of austerity.

  2. Thanks for the post! Teachers are typically very devoted to their students. I teach at the college and graduate levels and I love my students. It’s a great job!

  3. I would prefer to celebrate these people simply as decent human beings. Their role as teachers put them in the position to demonstrate that quality, but it did not qualify them any more than any other decent human being.

    I’m sorry to rain on this parade, but I am not prepared to march lockstep to the beat of any drum pounding out the praises of teachers. I want through 12 years of primary and secondary education as well as college and never met a single teacher who aided my education. Indeed, all got in its way. However, I have no doubt that many would have thrown themselves in the path of danger to save me and my classmates.

    Inasmuch as I graduated from law school in 1965, teachers have had more than ample time to alter their image in my eyes. Unfortunately, they have only gotten worse. As a father and grandfather as well as a volunteer with youth-at-risk, I have had to fight often to undo the damage of teachers who would beat the love of learning out of children and substitute their progressive ideology for cogent thought. Need I supply links to videos of teachers forcing children to sing the praises of their ideological leaders or humiliating them for expressing any unpopular idea?

    So, yes, let’s celebrate the heroism of these people. But, let’s not use their act of heroism to forgive the institutions that now condition our children to welcome tyranny.

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