by Jon Pelto from Wait, What
As our state and nation work to process the incomprehensible, the first thing that stands out when we look back on the Newtown tragedy, and the many other school shootings that have plagued our nation over the fourteen years since Columbine, is that time after time, faced with unimaginable horror and fear, teachers and other school personnel have stepped forward to protect their students.
We may never fully know the details about the events that took place in Newtown on Friday, but one thing is absolutely clear and that is that teachers and school personnel gave their lives to save their children.
At times of great tragedy, our elected officials lose their partisan standing and become a voice for the People. As President Obama shed tears and spoke of his personal heartbreak, he spoke for every single American.
And Governor Dannel Malloy has echoed our collective despair and sadness in the face of this unspeakable horror.
Both the President and the Governor spoke eloquently of the courage and dedication of the teachers and the other adults in the Newtown Elementary School, as well as the first responders.
Praising each is certainly the right thing to do, and nothing should dim the light of honor that shines on the courage and dedication of the police officers, fire fighters and emergency services personnel who rose to the challenge on Friday. As a result of their training, their character and their honor, we know that first responders run into buildings when everyone else is running out.
But to limit the definition of first responders to just those uniformed people is a mistake, for it must be said that in every sense of the word, teachers are truly first responders as well.
Every single day, thanks to their training, their character and their honor, teachers throughout this country, get up and go into their schools, dedicated to helping their children.
On most days the challenges teachers confront are related to teaching and creating an atmosphere where children can learn and grow. But while a “regular” school day is the norm, teachers are always engaged in taking whatever steps are necessary to protect their students.
Whether it is simply the day-to-day education process, stepping up to help a child in need, seeking to instill appropriate behavior, smoothing out an argument, breaking up a fight or stepping into the line of fire, teachers are the ones there who are truly first in line to respond to the conditions around them.
Far too often we take that for granted.
The teachers and school personnel in Newtown, those who gave up their lives and the rest who worked to ensure the safety of their students, are an incredible reminder that teachers deserve praise and respect.
As a result of Friday’s horrors, all of our leaders, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, correctly speak of the courage of the first responders and the teachers.
But, of course, in truth, we’ve seen a growing trend in which politicians have used teachers as pawns or even scapegoats in a terrible game of political pandering and maneuvering. Unfair, inappropriate and mean-spirited verbal attacks on teachers and their unions have become commonplace.
It wasn’t long ago that a Democratic state legislator in Rhode Island called teachers, “pigs at the public trough” during a hearing on public employee pension reform, despite the fact that it is federal law that requires that states have public teacher pension programs, and it is federal law that prohibits teachers from participating in social security, meaning those mandated state pensions are their only direct mechanism for retirement payments.
Meanwhile, Republican Governor Chris Christie’s mean-spirited attacks on New Jersey’s teachers have become legendary.
Sadly, earlier this year, as a way to build support for his education reform proposal, even our own Governor, Dannel Malloy, claimed that all a teacher need do is “show up for four years” to be given tenure, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Malloy’s comment was not unlike the one made by Republican wing-nut, Governor Bobby Jindal, who said – during the very same month, when Jindal introduced his own education reform bill – that getting tenure was nothing more than a “reward” for a teacher based on “the length of time they have been breathing.”
These types of comments are not only untrue and idiotic, but they demean teachers and the teacher profession.
All you have to do is show up for four years and you get tenure?
Tenure is nothing more than simply showing up and breathing?
On Friday, 27-year-old Victoria Soto, the smart, wonderful, beautiful, young teacher who gave up her life to save her children must have been pretty close to that four-year mark.
I don’t know if she already had reached it and had received the evaluations needed to become a tenured teacher of if that challenge was still ahead of her, but no one on this earth can say that Victoria Soto simply showed up for work or thought her job as a teacher was simply to be there and breathe.
No, teachers more than simply show up.
And December 14, 2012 will always be remembered, and one of the things that it will be remembered for is that the real truth about teachers and teaching is very different from the made up fictions concocted by the politicians.
Heroes come in many forms.
Heroes are people who dedicate their lives to helping others.
The teachers in Newtown like the police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel who arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary were heroes.
The fact is, most teachers, like most firefighters, most police officers and most emergency personnel are heroes. They all up every day and take whatever steps are necessary to protect and enhance the lives of the people they are so dedicated to serve.
So next time we talk about first responders, let us not forget that teachers are truly first responders as well.
Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, despite the fact that the grieving process has barely begun, our state’s fiscal crisis remains very real and the Connecticut General Assembly is still scheduled to go into special session on Wednesday to deal with the projected $415 million budget deficit.
The decisions the Governor and legislators make will directly impact tens of thousands of Connecticut residents.
There are some reports that an agreement has been reached, and if so, it probably means significant cuts to vital social and health services, at the very moment we should all understand the importance of these types of services, and redouble our efforts to cut them.
The vast majority of those cuts would be unnecessary if legislators would simply stand up and require that those making more than $1 million pay their fair share in taxes. The $1.5 billion dollar tax increase proposed by Governor Malloy, and passed by the Connecticut General Assembly, last year, shielded those who make more than $1 million from having to pay a higher tax rate.
Now, by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share starting in January, Connecticut can put a fairer tax system in place and avert the disastrous cuts that have been proposed.
We have heard wonderful, caring words these last few days from our elected officials. Those efforts are deeply appreciated. But now the time for action has come and the question is whether they will use their powers to turn their words into actions.