ONTD Political

Unionized Teachers, So Vilified By the Right, Are the Heroes of Sandy Hook

11:33 am - 12/19/2012
Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., teachers and school staff were the first first responders. Teachers got their students into bathrooms and closets, teachers kept their students calm, and some teachers lost their lives. Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach are described as having run toward the shooting as Adam Lanza forced his way into the school. First-grade teacher Victoria Soto was killed after hiding her students in a closet; fellow teachers Anne Marie Murphy and Lauren Rousseau and behavioral therapist Rachel D'Avino were also killed. But it wasn't just those who died who protected their students on Friday.

On this day, this was their job, to lock classrooms and cover windows and crowd children into bathrooms and closets and try to keep them from making noise. That's become part of the job of teaching, and they knew what to do. Not just the teachers—a custodian ran through the halls checking that classroom doors had been locked, and the entire school was alerted to the situation by a worker who turned on the intercom.

Kindergarten teacher Janet Vollmer read her students a story to keep them calm. But that had to mean keeping her own voice calm enough not to alarm them. How do you do that sheltered only by a locked classroom door and some bookcases?

Library clerk Maryann Jacob led students crawling across a floor to a storage space they could lock, then handed out paper and crayons.

First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig, seen in the video on the next page, got her students into a bathroom and later recounted how, as she worked to keep them quiet and unheard by the gunman,

I said to them 'I need you to know, that I love you all very much and that it's going to be okay,' 'cause I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die. You know, and I don't know if that's okay, you know, teachers ... But I wanted them to know someone loved them and I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway.

"I don't know if that's okay." Later the same day she hid in a bathroom believing she would die, Kaitlin Roig was wondering if she'd been unprofessional in her efforts to ensure that if her students died, they died knowing they were loved.

We hear so very much bad about teachers. In the past few years, teachers have been the subject of political attacks not just in Wisconsin and Michigan and Tennessee, but in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, California. They're ineffective, they're overpaid, they're lazy, they don't care about kids—the claims are almost unbelievable if you try to apply them to any given teacher you know, but they've been used as a potent political weapon behind reams of bad policy.

Well, it's not like Sandy Hook Elementary School was chosen ahead of time as having especially brave or dedicated teachers and administrators and staff. It's not like there's a bravest school staff competition and Adam Lanza thought he'd give himself a real challenge by facing them. No, this what you find in schools—in a unionized school, by the way, with workers represented by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of School Administrators, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. You find Victoria Soto, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach. You find Janet Vollmer and Kaitlin Roig and all the other teachers and custodians and library clerks who put aside their own terror to make sure students were safe.

There will be a lot of lip service paid to the courage of Sandy Hook's staff. But the real measure of who's not just paying lip service will come when we see which of the politicians and so-called reformers who've been waging political attacks on teachers look at how teachers responded to a deadly physical attack, check themselves, and stop trying to demonize teachers in the push for corporate education policy.

schexyschteve 20th-Dec-2012 02:30 am (UTC)
I don't even know how we, as a country, got to the point where demonizing teachers was an okay thing to do.
wrestlingdog 20th-Dec-2012 02:35 am (UTC)
Drives me out of my fucking tree.
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 02:51 am (UTC)
I'm an education student, and it is depressing how many times in my classes we have had discussions about public school teachers being attacked by politicians who have never taught and who don;t have kids in public schools.

A couple of school districts closed here in Michigan one day last week because teachers were attending the anti-right to work protests in Lansing. The comments I saw online were just vile. All teachers were painted at these awful, lazy, 'union thugs' who didn't care at all about their students.
layweed 20th-Dec-2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Idk how it is in other places, but a lot of the SBoE people here in Texas aren't even fucking teachers or have relevant degrees. But somehow they're in charge of setting curriculum standards? Goddamn. And then you have legislators who don't have a fucking clue what should be taught in schools or what is taught in schools or how schools even work setting legislation that determines how things are done? WTF.
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 03:00 am (UTC)
I think that is even true for a lot of local school boards. You get local business people and the like who have never taught or even worked in a school.
wrestlingdog 20th-Dec-2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
I know they definitely weren't in my hometown.
ceilidh 20th-Dec-2012 02:53 am (UTC)
fucking this right here.
hotcement 20th-Dec-2012 02:41 am (UTC)
obviously the only reason they stepped in was because the union would've punished them and they would have had to fill out paperwork. not because they, y'know, didn't want children to die.
layweed 20th-Dec-2012 02:47 am (UTC)
This confuses me too. It especially confuses me when here in Texas, there's talk of arming teachers or creating special "school marshals" akin to air marshals on airplanes. i.e. someone in the school would volunteer to be the "marshal", undergo training, be allowed to carry a gun on campus. But...y'all don't trust teachers in public schools enough to teach children. But apparently you trust them enough to carry a gun in school? Idgi. I mean, okay they aren't entirely equivalent, but still...
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
It was even weirder in Michigan. The state passed right-to-work on the tuesday before the shooting (and all sorts of awful shit was said about the teachers unions as a part of those discussions), and then in the wee hours of the morning on Friday-just a few hours before the shooting our legislature passed a bill which would have allowed guns in schools (our governor vetoed that one yesterday because of the public outcry)

schexyschteve 20th-Dec-2012 03:14 am (UTC)
Oh, he actually vetoed it? Thank goodness.
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 03:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, I suppose he figured his popularity had taken a big enough hit already, that he better just veto the damned thing
squeeful 20th-Dec-2012 06:25 am (UTC)
Yeah, like no student ever is incapable of physically overwhelming a teacher or marshal and stealing their gun.
amyura 20th-Dec-2012 02:53 am (UTC)
I tell my students I love them all the time. Because I do. I've gotten to the point in my career where I don't even care if it's unprofessional. I get up and go to work every day because, in addition to needing to eat, I love my students.

The other thing is, kids can SMELL it when teachers don't care or don't want to be there. Those teachers are out of the profession within five years, usually even less time.

Both political parties and almost all the media will go on at length that it's not teachers, it's teachers' unions. Who the fuck do they think comprise teachers' unions?!?
ceilidh 20th-Dec-2012 04:02 am (UTC)
Both political parties and almost all the media will go on at length that it's not teachers, it's teachers' unions. Who the fuck do they think comprise teachers' unions?!?

And when teachers bargain for better working conditions, why can people not understand that teacher working conditions = student learning conditions?
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 02:52 pm (UTC)
seriously. Do they really think that overworked, underpaid teachers make for the best education conditions?
amyura 20th-Dec-2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
Teaching classes that are too large in unheated, poorly ventilated classrooms in some cases, without adequate technology and supplies.

My first job, my classroom had ONE working light fixture and faced a wooded area. My chalkboards couldn't be written on because they were so old, and I had a little two-by-four dorm-sized white board that I leaned on the eraser shelf and did one problem at a time. One of my classes was too large for that classroom, so I had to teach it in the auditorium; we never did group work, all lecture-style on an overhead because that was the only way the room could be used.
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
I subbed in a room like that last year. 45 6th graders in one room. Very little ventilation and it was probably 100 degrees in that room. After a while, me and the teacher next door just gave up and took the kids outside for an extra recess.

My own high school was pretty hit or miss. There were rooms that were pretty good and then there were rooms that were awful. My science class room one year had a window that would not close. In Michigan. I don't know why they didn't at least board it up or something.
lizzy_someone 22nd-Dec-2012 10:23 am (UTC)
My eighth grade French teacher told us she loved us on the last day of school, and I always thought -- both before that and throughout the eight years since -- that she was the single best teacher I ever had or would ever have, and that she was one of the best human beings I had ever met or would ever meet. It meant so much to me that she said that, because I love her too, because we all loved her. So. You rock on with your student-loving self.
wikilobbying 20th-Dec-2012 05:33 am (UTC)
I said to them 'I need you to know, that I love you all very much and that it's going to be okay,' 'cause I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die. You know, and I don't know if that's okay, you know, teachers ... But I wanted them to know someone loved them and I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway.

god i teared up at this. idek if it's technically "professional" but i can't find room to care given the situation. that was just a genuine human response and means of reassurance and comfort. and yeah, when a bunch of people - children, at that - are terrified and no one has any idea if they're all going to be alive by the end of a rampage like that, it's perfectly acceptable to let them know they're loved.
peace_piper 20th-Dec-2012 07:36 am (UTC)
Kaitlin Roig:

strandedinaber 20th-Dec-2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
Made me cry too.
fragbert 20th-Dec-2012 01:34 pm (UTC)
My wife is a high school English teacher. The day after Sandy Hook, obviously, hardly any school work was done as all the kids wanted to talk about was the shooting.

According to my wife, the conversations went something like this:

Kids: "What would we do if that happened here?"

Teacher: "First thing I'd do is run for the door and lock it. See that closet? I'd shove every one of you in there, lock that door too, and then stand in front of it."

Kids: "Really?"

Teacher: "Yes, really. For 45 minutes every day, all of you are MY kids. I love you more than you think, and even if it wasn't my job, I'd still do it because that's what parents who love their kids do. We take bullets for you. Now get back to work."

Kids: *sniff*

yeats 20th-Dec-2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
there seems to be something in my eye

your wife sounds amazing
redstar826 20th-Dec-2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
I know the middle school I was subbing in on Monday had an emergency meeting first thing to talk about how they were going to handle this with the kids. I'm not sure how it went since I was in a special ed room and if the kids I were with knew what had happened, none of them brought it up.

I think most teachers think of their students as 'their kids'. It's kind of hard not to, I think. I had an internship this semester where I was with the same 3 middle school classes twice a week, and by the end I was so attached to them. Saying goodbye was really really hard.
lizzy_someone 22nd-Dec-2012 10:35 am (UTC)
I said to them 'I need you to know, that I love you all very much and that it's going to be okay,' 'cause I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear.

brb crying forever. And you know what? If a teacher telling all her students that she loves them when she thinks they're about to die is wrong, then I would want to be the student of a wrong teacher; I would want my child to have a wrong teacher; I would want to work beside wrong teachers; if I were a principal/superintendent/whoever makes educational hiring decisions, I would hire wrong teachers; and if I were a teacher, I can only hope that I would be a wrong one.
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