Dishearteningly, we have witnessed again the ultimate sacrifice by educators in protection of their students. Appropriately, the news media, national and state leaders, and local communities are holding up these acts as deserving of our honor and gratitude. However, too often such acts are presented without an important context. The willingness of educators to do what is necessary is not completely disconnected or unrelated to the everyday lives, habits, and motivations of educators.
Those outside of the education profession too often miss the reality that protecting students is a natural, consistent, and integral part of the lives of educators. Educators spend their days protecting the hopes and dreams of students who struggle to learn. They encourage, coach, worry, and nudge to build skills and stimulate learning progress.
Whether scraped knees and small bruises or bloody noses and broken bones, educators are often the first responders and immediate caregivers. They are vigilant about seeing dangers and anticipating activities in the classroom and school that may present risks. They are quick to recognize behaviors that may threaten the safety of students themselves or others and move to prevent and intervene at the first signs of danger.
Educators often spend their evenings and weekends wondering and worrying about students’ lives outside of school. Are their parents fighting? Is there enough to eat? Do they have a safe place to sleep? Will they be ready and able to learn when they return to school? Are there emotional bruises and breaks that will need attention?
They think about their students’ futures and whether they are on track. Will they master the ability to read, learn their math skills, and progress at a pace that leads to success? Will they be accepted into the college that matches their needs or find a job to support them and a future family? When motivation and learning wane, teachers quickly become preoccupied with what they can do and how they can protect students so they will not have to suffer the consequences of not learning and preparing for future success.
The jarring reality of a mortal threat is not a circumstance for which we can be fully prepared. We hope that such a decision will never be required of us. Yet, the instinct to protect is already present. Shielding students from real, immediate physical danger in many ways represents a natural extension of what teachers do and think about most of their time.
Having to consider the possibility of such a sacrifice is becoming too commonplace. We must do all that we can to stem the tide and reverse the trend. Still, educators think every day about and act to keep students safe and protected. It is what they do.