Last December I read with intensity the stories about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This week, I am doing the same thing regarding the Oklahoma tornado. Both of these terrifying events involved stories about schools and students who had experiences that will impact them for their entire lives. And stories of students who died. As a teacher, I have keen interest in what the teachers in these horrific situations did. I identify with each and every one of them. I know how they must have felt on some level. The teachers in both situations are lauded as heroes. These are people who refer to the students as "my kids", who shelter their students with their own bodies, who take great risks to protect the kids in their care. They literally put their lives on the line to protect the children from a gunman hellbent on murder or a tornado unleashing unimaginable destruction. When the situation becomes stable, the teachers stay in protective mode, making sure their kids are accounted for, carrying them to safety, hugging them, reassuring them, comforting their parents. (Here are two stories hailing teachers as "heroes" -- Oklahoma tornado and Sandy Hook.) These brave teachers push down their own terror and ignore their own feelings of self-preservation in order to protect their students. They wouldn't handle these situations any other way. They are these kids' teachers, and they feel that this is just part of the job.
But while society and the press and politicians talk out of one side of their mouths about these selfless heroes, they talk out of the other sides of their mouths about how greedy, lazy, and selfish teachers are. Do you know how many times I have heard, "You only work 6 hours a day for 180 days a year. You're way overpaid. Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. My tax dollars pay your salary"? It makes me laugh through my tears to think that these people will rave about the hero teachers but vote for laws or lawmakers who want to do everything in their power to demoralize those heroes -- call their unions evil, strip them of collective bargaining rights, and slash their fat pensions because they're so overpaid anyway. (See an example of this thinking here.)
So here is my challenge: decide. You can't have it both ways, World. You can't say, "Teachers are lazy, greedy, selfish, under-worked, overpaid -- except you hero teachers." It smacks of the conversation between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere when she tells him how she's a robot with a man -- oh, except for him. What are we -- heroes or villains?