Dying to Teach – Ye Gay Ol’ Valley

By: Dani Langevin – December, 2013

In 1927, fifty-five year old Andrew Kehoe, school board treasurer in Bath, Michigan shot his wife, fire-bombed his own barn then set off a bomb at the Bath Consolidated School killing thirty-eight school children, six adults and injuring fifty-eight others. It was and still remains the deadliest act against an American school in the history of the U.S. There would not be another attack on an American school until 1966 when twenty-five year old Charles Whitman, an engineering student, climbed a clock tower at the University of Texas and began shooting a high powered rifle. In the next hour and a half, Whitman would shoot forty-nine people, killing seventeen before he was shot multiple times and killed by Texas authorities.

Between the Texas University Massacre in 1966 and 2005 there would be, on average, 1.7 school shootings per year with an average of 1.9 deaths in schools across our great nation. Twelve of those thirty-nine years would see no ‘school shootings’ at all. From 1990 on, the United States would not see another year pass without a school being assaulted by a gunman. That would make twenty-three solid years where our children and their teachers have not been safe in our schools.

Although the above statement is true, something changed after 2005. That would be the last year that school shootings would number under three and deaths under six. If we average the shootings and deaths over the past seven years we would see about ten shootings and over fifteen deaths per year in our educational institutions. Education has become a very dangerous vocation.

As a social studies teacher of young teenagers I make it a point to discuss headline news with them. Inevitably our conversations are about the rash of school shootings that plague our nation all too often. It’s a slippery slope and a very shaky tight rope I walk upon when these discussions emerge. Thirteen and fourteen year olds have more information directly at their finger tips than ever before. And though they may not be able to conjugate a sentence or solve the latest algebraic equation, they are no dummies. They hear, see and feel everything that’s going on in the world around them and it frightens them. It’s very difficult to quell their fears and concerns about the rising school violence when I can hardly do the same for myself. I bring up the number of schools that exist in our country and state along with the number of students that go to school across our nation on any given day and hope that they believe statistically we are safe within our building. I’m not sure how convincing I am.

With every school shooting, we hear stories of uncommon valor and acts of selfless heroism. Teachers shield students with their own bodies, hurry them to safety while jeopardizing their own and place themselves between the assailant and the children they were asked to teach not to save. Gone is the old fashioned school marm that would scream at the rubber snake placed strategically in the top drawer of her desk. Unfortunately, there are countless parents today who can thank a heroic teacher that their child is alive.

Teachers are now placing their lives on the line every day they step into the classroom. Recently 3,000 teachers were polled by the National Education Association across America. Half reported being harassed by students at school. Others revealed theft and property damage. One quarter admitted to being victims of physical attacks which include but are not limited to being hit, kicked, bitten slapped, stabbed or shot. There is no rational explanation to this rise in violence, but it goes without saying that this is not your grandmother’s job anymore.

Teaching is not a career for the faint of heart. To our students we are not just educators. By necessity we have taken on the roles of surrogate parents, therapists, make shift medical responders, nurses, mediators, policemen, and bullet proof vests and that is only scratching the surface. Teachers have evolved into something that would be unrecognizable by one from even just twenty years ago. We have dedicated our lives to making the lives of your children the best that they can be and we are now laying down our own to do it.