Victoria Soto, age 27, apparently died yesterday while trying to get her students into a safer spot in their classroom at Sandy Hook. She stood between the murderer and her students, and he killed her.
[Updated to add: Andrew Revkin shares more on Soto’s colleagues Kaitlin Roig and Maryrose Kristopik: “Kaitlin Roig locked her students in the bathroom and kept them safe, while Victoria Soto was trying to do the same when she came face-to-face with the gunman and was shot, execution style. Maryrose Kristopik barricaded her music students in a closet, while the gun man fought to get in.” Roig and Kristopik survived, thankfully.]
I spent a little time thinking about Soto and her colleagues this morning. I’ve known quite a few grade school teachers over the years. Until 2009, I was married to one. And I realized as I was thinking about Soto that there’s not a single one of those grade school teachers I’ve known, my ex- emphatically included, who I could imagine doing anything but jumping between the gunman and his or her students.
I know that’s an argument from incredulity. I know teachers are human beings, and human beings freeze up when they’re frightened. But I’ve also seen the sacrifices grade school teachers make on days the media don’t notice. Over and over, day in and day out, with no hope of any relief outside of leaving the job.
And for this they get to be one of the most denigrated groups of professionals in the United States, targeted every single goddamn year for one “reform” after another, vouchers from the fundies and charter schools from the liberals, forced by law to take every spark of individuality and interest out of their curricula and then blamed when their students lose interest, resented their pensions and their health care by people who then blame them when their kids turn out to be apathetic.
Once the media horror dies down about Soto and her co-workers’ sacrifices, I guarantee you this: public school grade school teachers will go right back to being the despised class. “Union thugs.” “With three-month vacations.” “Teaching kids their ABCs.” All the idiotic, ill-informed, right wing anti-intellectual myths will rev up again as if nothing had happened. And in the meantime the people the Fox pundits despise will go on teaching kids to read and do math and treat each other with respect.
In other words, it’s not really that much of a jump to imagine all the teachers I know instinctively taking a bullet to protect their kids. To a first approximation, every single one of them does the same thing every waking moment, giving up their lives by increment to give their students a chance at a better life.
I don’t at all mean to trivialize the sacrifice Soto and her colleagues made by comparing it to, say, having to buy pencils on your own dime because the Republicans cut your district’s budget even further. What I’m saying is that given the kind of peson who chooses to remain in the profession despite all the sacrifice and opprobrium because they want to help kids, Soto’s tragic sacrifice isn’t in the least surprising. It’s what teachers do.
So I just thought I’d take a moment to thank those of you reading this who are, or who have been, grade school teachers for your routine heroism. We don’t recognize it enough.
Let me anticipate a likely semi-trollish objection: yes, there are grade school teachers who should not be teaching. Yes, there are burned out seat warmers. Yes, there are people teaching subjects they’re not really qualified to teach. Yes, there are the occasional people who shouldn’t be around children at all. If our society valued teachers the way teachers as a class deserve, such people wouldn’t be there. The incompetent and the abusive would never make the cut, and the burned-out would be far less burned out.