Teachers' lessons in heroism and healing
Moore, Oklahoma, teacher Tammy Glasgow walks from school with her second-grade students after a tornado.
May 27th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Teachers' lessons in heroism and healing

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - On page 73 of the elementary school handbook in Moore, Oklahoma, among entries about chewing gum and bicycles, there’s a warning about the weather.

“Sudden tornadoes are a common occurrence in Oklahoma, especially in the spring,” it cautions. “Teachers should strive to maintain an atmosphere of orderliness and calmness.”

Indeed, they knew just what to do last week as a massive EF5 tornado approached. Children crouched along interior walls, faces down, legs tucked, fingers woven over their necks. They bunched into closets or huddled beneath their desks. Teachers positioned themselves between the kids and the howling, quaking wind they heard coming.

At Briarwood Elementary School, Tammy Glasgow told her second-graders she loved them as she shut the doors to the bathrooms where they sheltered.

First-grade teacher Waynel Mayes commanded her kids to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the roar of the wind - to scream it if they needed to.

When the walls quivered at Plaza Towers Elementary School, principal Amy Simpson shouted “In God’s name, go away, go away!,” again, again, again, until the tornado had.

But gone, too, in the aftermath were Briarwood and Plaza Towers schools, decimated into a tangle of bricks, desks, school books and mud. Seven Plaza Towers students died in the rubble. All of Briarwood’s students survived, along with thousands more around the district.

At a news conference late last week, Simpson recounted, “Not one parent blamed us … because they’re Oklahomans, too, and they know what a tornado means, and they know what it means in school.”

They know, just as she does, that teachers were watching over their children.

“The teachers,” Simpson said, “were able to act quickly, stay calm and take literally the weight of a wall onto their bodies to save those that were under them.”

After years of political beatdowns and public backlash, educators have emerged as heroes time and time again in recent months.

It happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where six educators died along with 20 students when a gunman burst in.

Again in Taft, California, where a teacher stood before a 16-year-old shooter who had already wounded a student and persuaded him to hand over his shotgun.

Another time in January, when a school bus driver in Dale County, Alabama, died while blocking an armed kidnapper from snatching multiple children from his bus.

Even last week, when Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached a man wielding a bloody meat cleaver on a busy street in London. She calmly kept the man talking until police arrived. Loyau-Kennett hadn’t trained for this, exactly, she told ITV’s Daybreak, but said she used to be a teacher.

As the man with the butcher knife spoke, she said she thought of a school nearby that would soon release children in the middle of the gruesome scene. She said it was more important to keep talking than to worry for herself.

“Better me than the child,” Loyau-Kennett said.


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Filed under: Oklahoma • Policy • School safety • Teachers