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.
(CNN) - The sign that covered a set of doors read, "We Love You Plaza Towers."
Children, toting big book bags and balloons, hugged their teachers and said goodbye before departing for the summer.
Many managed a smile despite the sad fact these end-of-the-year moments took place at Eastlake Elementary School because Plaza Towers is just a huge pile of rubble.
Kaylee Sanchez, a kindergartner who was shielded by one of her teachers as the storm plowed over Plaza Towers, said she was "freaking out" before going to Thursday's reunion.
But once she and the other children got there, laughter and playfulness returned to a group that suffered the worst when an EF5 tornado struck Monday.
Seven of their schoolmates were killed by the storm, which lead to 17 other deaths.
Kaylee's mother, Maria, applauded administrators for putting together the sendoff where students also received a backpack full of activities, snacks, stuffed animals and some basic necessities for the coming days.
"It's a really good thing because they get to see all their friends to make sure they are OK," Maria Sanchez said. "It's a good atmosphere to see the all these kids laughing and playing. ... My own daughter has been scared until today. When it started storming this morning she didn't want to come."
Pounding rain soaked Moore on Thursday morning, and winds sent pieces of debris flying, hindering recovery efforts three days after the devastating tornado.
Once she got there, Maria and the other children spilled around, and raced up to each other when they saw someone they had been worrying about.
Emily Stephens, a student at Plaza Towers, said she was in an underground shelter when the tornado hit.
"I just hope everyone's OK," she said. "I hope they get a new house - and a better one."
Stephens said "some of my house got ripped down."
She was happy to get the crayons, books and candy and, most importantly, see her classmates.
"It makes me glad to see my friends and that they're alive," she said.
(CNN) - When first-grade teacher Waynel Mayes saw that a tornado was approaching her Oklahoma elementary school, she began to move the desks around, told the kids they were playing "worms" who had to stay in their tunnels.
Then, she had another idea: She grabbed their musical instruments and asked them to play and sing as loud as they could. They could scream if they were scared, she said, but just don't stop singing.
"All our teachers were so brave," Mayes said, but the kids helped, too. "They were the bravest, they were the heroes because they listened to all the teachers."
By Josh Levs, CNN
(CNN) - It was the end of the school day. The kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School were stuffing their backpacks, looking forward to going home, playing with friends, eating snacks.
But the tornado warnings changed that.
When the twister came barreling in Monday afternoon, terrified young students huddled together in the hallways, screaming as walls and roofs caved in. Chairs and backpacks swirled above them. The winds and blaring sounds enveloped them. Cars from the parking lot landed just inches away.
Teachers dove onto groups of kids to protect them from falling debris.
It was the biggest tornado they'd ever seen. Described as a lawn-mower blade spanning two miles, it shredded through their town.
"It was scary," student Julio Rodriguez told CNN. Teachers instructed the kids to crouch down, "and you covered your head with your hands," he demonstrated.
"I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself safe because I didn't want to fly away in the tornado," one little girl told KFOR.
The 17 mile-long twister stayed on the ground for 40 minutes.
By the time it was gone, so was the school in Moore, Oklahoma. In its place was a huge pile of rubble, trapping teachers and children.
And seven students were dead.
They were in a classroom, Moore Fire Department Chief Gary Bird told CNN Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN Tuesday that the children were in a basement, where they drowned. But Bird said Wednesday that based on everything he's been told, "it had nothing to do with flooding."
In the tornado's wake, the school quickly became the epicenter of the tragedy in this shattered town, part of the metropolitan Oklahoma City area.
Oklahoma City (CNN) - Second-grade teacher Tammy Glasgow walks around what's left of Briarwood Elementary, struggling to pick out of its wreckage the things that once made a school.
"This was the cafeteria."
"This is where my desk sat."
"This is my classroom door."
"That yellow wall that's standing, that's where we were," said Glasgow, pointing to a squat stack of cinder blocks.
She, like many teachers at Oklahoma City's Briarwood, helped to keep students safe when the tornado tore through Monday, killing at least 24 people in the area, but incredibly, given the state of the building, no one at Briarwood.
Their actions no doubt saved lives.
Many have called the teachers - at least one of whom literally shielded children with her body - heroes.
But Glasgow said simply: "It's just our job."
Right before the tornado hit, she hurried students into two bathrooms and a closet. There were about eights boys in the boys' bathroom, including Glasgow's son, and a dozen girls in the girls' bathroom.
She and other adults were with three children in the closet.
"Before I shut the doors, because both bathrooms had doors, I said, 'I'm going to shut these doors,' and I said, 'I love you.' The boys looked at me a little strange. (I) walked in the girls' (bathroom) and said, 'I love you' and they all said 'I love you' back.
"I just told them to pray, and then that's what we did the whole time in the closet, just prayed," said Glasgow.
The storm blasted through.
By LZ Granderson, CNN contributor
Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.
(CNN) - Each day more than 55 million students attend the country's 130,000 schools.
Each day, parents and guardians entrust some 7 million teachers with the education of our children.
And on a normal day, that is all we expect teachers to do - teach.
But on those not-so normal days we are reminded that for six hours a day and more, five days a week, teaching is not the only thing teachers are charged with doing. On those not-so-normal days, we are reminded that teachers are also asked to be surrogate parents, protectors, heroes.
Monday was one of those not-so-normal days.
The nation watched in horror as a 2-mile-wide tornado with winds up to 200 mph tore through Moore, Oklahoma. As sirens blared and the ground shook, the full force of the twister hit Plaza Towers Elementary School around 3 p.m. It was full of students, young scared children who had nowhere to hide as the tornado ripped off the roof, sending debris everywhere.
"We had to pull a car out of the front hall off a teacher and I don't know what her name is, but she had three little kids underneath her," a rescuer said. "Good job teach."
By David L. Kirp, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of "The Sandbox Investment" and the forthcoming book "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."
(CNN) - Kudos to the president - his call for preschool for every 4-year-old, in the State of the Union address, is a bold and visionary idea. It’s what those who understand the power of early education to unlock children’s minds have been urging for years. It’s what I promoted when I served on the 2008 presidential transition team. But - and it’s a very big but - whether universal prekindergarten really makes a difference in children’s lives or turns out to be a false hope depends entirely on the quality of what’s being offered.
The plus-side first: It takes nothing away from the president’s boldness to note that early education, which used to be derided as baby-sitting, now enjoys widespread popularity. Scientists have learned how rapidly the brain develops during the first years and how much those early experiences build a foundation for later learning. “Skill begets skill,” as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman puts it, and studies of marquee prekindergarten programs show its potential for lifelong impact. Economists have calculated that every dollar invested in high-quality preschool returns $7 - a figure that would make Warren Buffett envious - with greater educational achievement, higher earnings, fewer unwanted pregnancies, lower welfare costs, even lower crime rates.
Parents get it. They are voting with their feet by increasingly enrolling their toddlers in preschool. Voters get it, too. Polling done by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization for children, shows that conservatives as well as liberals support early education. The biggest naysayers are the Republicans on Capitol Hill, but as with immigration reform, gun control, marriage equality and raising the minimum wage, they’re on the wrong side of history.
But expanding preschool isn’t enough. The research shows that if it’s going to have an impact, preschool must be good. Quality costs money, though, and lawmakers have often been loath to underwrite it.
When 5-year-old Cooper Barton wore a University of Michigan shirt to kindergarten in Oklahoma City, the principal asked him to turn it inside-out. Much to the surprise of his mother, the school district's dress code only allows university wear from schools in the state of Oklahoma, CNN affiliate KWTV reported. The dress code, adopted in 2005, was meant to deter gangs.
"He was a little embarrassed," his mother, Shannon Barton, said. "It wasn't offensive. You know, he's 5."
A district spokeswoman said the superintendent called the policy outdated and said that it would be reviewed.