Jim Arnold leads the Pelham City Schools in Mitchell County, Ga. He is a frequent essayist on this blog. Here is his latest piece:
By Jim Arnold
Public school teachers are fighting battles on many fronts. These challenges have been presented and debated again and again. Everyone seems to have an answer but no one can present a viable solution. Many believe that teachers and public school students are being held hostage by state and federal politicians to promote an agenda of privatization; others are convinced the public schools are irretrievably broken and beyond redemption.
Furlough days that directly affect teacher pay and quality of life, denigration of public schools and of the teaching profession, the use of public schools as instruments of social experimentation and reform, the imposition of more and more standardized tests as an educational end unto itself rather than a means to improve achievement, the threat of tying meaningless test scores to teacher evaluations, the continual micromanagement from state and federal agencies, the institution of program after program, each designed after the fashion of snake oils and Vitameatavegamin to miraculously cure whatever ails our students – all combine to make it difficult to continue teach in the face of what might seem to be insurmountable odds, opposition, constant criticism, all too frequent complaints and parental indifference. It would be oh so easy for teachers to become bitter, jaded and downright mad about the lack of support, dearth of approbation and the seeming lack of appreciation for the vital job they hold and the work they do every day.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy for the rest of the world to see what many of us already know; that the overwhelming majority of teachers and administrators care deeply for their students and go far above and beyond what our most vehement detractors can see or observe. These heroes want “their kids” to be safe and to experience learning opportunities that will make them better citizens, better learners and ultimately better people.
They take kids as they are and refuse to allow them to fail. They take students from hopeless family situations and give them something to build their lives upon. They struggle against staggering amounts of meaningless paperwork and regulations and impositions that make their jobs both thankless almost impossible, and they succeed more often in spite of the system than because of it.
They fight continuously to reach those students that others find unreachable, to find time to teach in a hopeless tangle of bureaucracy and regulation, and more often than not don’t see the results of their efforts until years later, when that treasured note or email appears from a student from years ago thanking them for what they did to help that child succeed.
On Jan. 30, a devastating tornado hit the area in and around Adairsville, Ga. Sonoraville Elementary School was very close to the path of that tornado.
One of my colleagues contacted Sonoraville Elementary Principal Elizabeth Anderson to ask how they might help. None of us really know how we will react when danger threatens. Will our first thoughts be to protect ourselves or will we fight our fears and do what we can to protect others? John Wayne said “courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
This story is about heroes at Sonoraville Elementary School.
Dr. Anderson wrote:
“I would be honored for you to share this. When I wrote this it was to convey what everyone did in our building that day. Our society should know what educators do every day for children.”
Thank you for asking about our area. The Sonoraville community was devastated last week by the tornado. My family advocate, counselor and county social worker continue to make home visits and locate all those impacted by the storm. The damage to many homes was more far reaching than we had originally thought. We are a resilient community and the volunteers have been amazing. We are so appreciative. I would like to brag on our faculty, staff, and students. I think as a principal, you often wonder what the reaction of everyone will be when a crisis happens (you always..what if ?). We were in dark hallways and other areas for approximately two hours and lost all forms of communication.
As the tornado spiraled in our direction, everyone was safely huddled in hallways, bathrooms, and practice rooms. Adults took little ones in their laps and covered them with their bodies. Many adults rocked small children and used soothing tones as they waited in cramped spaces. Our nurse remembered medical needs and tended to those in the darkness. A teacher and her paraprofessional drew blood from a diabetic child to make sure he stayed healthy during the storm. A fourth grade teacher prayed with her students when they questioned what would happen if they died. Once the warning was lifted and we proceeded back to our dark classrooms, the heroism did not cease.
Everyone pitched in to serve lunches and aid in a dark dismissal with no means of mass communication. Many adults had learned they had severely damaged homes, but never once did they ask to leave their students. They all stayed until students had been safely removed from campus. Many said we are here to the end, and they were. Our students assisted each other and each one stepped up that day.
Words will never be able to capture the spirit of Sonoraville Elementary School that day. Following the storm, our people have cleaned, served meals, donated money, resources, and so much more. As their principal, I am one of the luckiest people on earth to say they are mine. So, this February’s Board of Education report’s classified and certified personnel of the month is all of Sonoraville Elementary School. What do Phoenixes do? They rise up…yes they do.”
Stories like this restore my faith in what teachers do. They remind us of why we went into teaching in the first place, and why we spend our lives helping other peoples’ children. They took care of other peoples’ kids because it’s not their job, it’s their calling. John Wayne smiles down on heroes like these.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog