Like many people around the country I’ve been reduced to tears watching coverage of this week’s devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma. The pictures are heart wrenching. The stories are chilling. Truly this is the stuff of nightmares.
Perhaps the most tragic images come from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. An estimated 75 children, as of Monday evening, may have been crouched in the school when the brunt of the storm made its way over the campus. It appears that several children lost their lives in their own school building.
And so we weep for the children whose all-too-short lives came to an end in those classrooms and hallways. We collectively ache for the parents who will never again have the privilege of hugging their sweet little ones. For those of us for whom faith is our foundation, we turn to our God and futilely try to make sense of it all. As our nation watches and prays for our Oklahoma brothers and sisters, we struggle to find some hope. Are there any sparks of humanity that can temporarily, and only slightly, diminish the cries of our pain?
And, thankfully, the supermen and superwomen emerge, as they often seem to. It amazes me that we are given the privilege to witness something hopeful in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. In the case of Plaza Towers, the teachers provide the hope we all so desperately need right now. There are stories of more than one educator who literally threw their bodies on top of four or five little students. These teachers instinctively knew that the churning rubble and debris could end the lives of their young charges. So they simply used their own bodies as a human shield. These teachers were willing to take the brunt of the storm in order to protect their students.
What were they thinking in that exact moment? Did they weigh the costs of what they were about to do? Or did they just act? It’s hard to know. I only hope that I would have had the same courageous instincts when I was a classroom teacher.
We focus so much, as we must, on the impact teachers have on our children’s academic and intellectual progress. That’s certainly right and appropriate, as that is a teacher’s primary responsibility. But, like many of us, I know that I am guilty of getting lost in the academics and losing site of how much more our best teachers do. They go far beyond simply educating our children. They care for them, laugh with them, inspire them, support them, encourage them, and, yes, in some cases literally lay down their lives for them.
I will return to the complex, and often thorny, education reform discussions where we wrestle with the best way to increase student achievement and bring educational equality to all students. But for today, I will remember the heroes that walk into our nation’s classrooms every Monday through Friday. And I will pray for them. I will thank God for them. I am grateful for how they teach, guide, lead and protect our children – and my children – every single day.
Nicole Baker Fulgham is Founder and President of The Expectations Project, where her faith drives her daily to seek educational equity for all children. Nicole is also author of “Educating All God’s Children,” where she explores what Christians can – and should – do to improve public education for low-income kids.