Letter: The Courage of Our Teachers

To the Editor:

Several years ago I was leading a seminar with a group of teachers and principals at a national conference. We were examining the quality of “courage” — what it entails, how we know it when we see it, how and under what circumstances one displays it, and whether one can be trained to act with it.

It is an elusive quality, and we all were struggling with various definitions and examples when one young teacher spoke up. She said she was a teaching intern in a small elementary school during that terrible morning of Sept. 11. The school was situated in a New Jersey suburb and was deliberately built so that the children could see Manhattan in the distance. In that morning, the view was of the Twin Towers burning. She described how, despite the fact that several of the teachers and the principal had family members who worked in the Twin Towers, they gathered together to discuss how to protect their students, work with the crush of frantic parents who were already beginning to arrive at the school, and make such decisions as whether they should pull the blinds and shut off TVs. Tears and fears were for later; at that point, they had to take care of the children they assumed responsibility for when they became teachers.

The young teacher said she had learned a lot sitting in education courses, but that day was the day when she learned about how much courage it took to be a teacher.

In Newtown, Conn., courage was the reigning virtue. Administrative staff rushed toward the gunfire. Teachers placed themselves between the killer and their children. A teacher in a locked-down classroom snatched one young boy, heading for the office with an attendance report, out of a hallway.

I will always remember the beautiful faces of the dead and the enormous courage of those — both living and dead — whom we ask to take care of our children.

Bob McCarthy