I’m thinking of those teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, right now.
The ones who died last Friday.
The ones who remain – the ones who have to carry on today.
When I was preparing to become a teacher, I don’t remember learning anything about the Latin phrase, “in loco parentis,” meaning to stand in place of the parent.
Especially when it comes to protecting a child.
The closest I ever came to that was during a tornado.
We were rehearsing for one act play competition one night, at a local university stage that was the same size as the stage where we would be competing. The stage was in an old auditorium that had a basement underneath the stage, but I’d never been down there.
It was dark and musty, and the staircase turned so that you couldn’t see where it went.
And frankly, it was a bit creepy.
All of a sudden the lights started flickering and I could hear the wind whipping the tree limbs around outside the building. I knew we were under a tornado warning, and having grown up in Wichita Falls, I started thinking about where we would go if the sirens went off.
About that time a tree limb crashed through one of the stain glassed windows in the side foyer of the auditorium, and shortly thereafter, there went the sirens.
I gathered everyone up, knowing we were going to have to go down in that basement, whether I could see what was down there or not.
Then all the electricity went out. It was pitch black.
Keep in mind that this was 1990 – in the days before cell phones. In the days before iPhone apps that turn your phone into a flashlight.
I went first, to make sure we weren’t wandering down into a black hole, praying that the whole basement wasn’t full of water. With all the things that live in water.
The students lined up behind me, youngest to oldest, and I told them to sit down on the steps, hold on to the person in front of them, and scoot down the staircase. I didn’t want anyone missing a step in the dark, tripping, and creating a domino effect on the rest of us.
Years later I can admit that I was scared. Mostly because I had no idea what was at the bottom of that staircase. Plus, I’m scared of tornadoes. I’ve seen what they do.
We scooted as far as I could go, when all I could see was black in front of me and the stairs had run out. The space seemed to be expansive, from the echo I was getting, but I couldn’t be sure of the flooring or what we might run into. By that time everyone was down into the stairwell, which was the safest spot we could’ve been in at the time, so I decided to stop there and wait it out.
For a good while we just sat there on the staircase. Once we knew we were out of danger, we all started to giggle. Partly out of relief, partly because we were still scared, not knowing what might be lurking in the dark underneath that creaky old building.
That night in the basement with no electricity was nothing in comparison to what those teachers in Newtown experienced.
I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be in their place.
But I know all that matters to a teacher in a moment of crisis is keeping your kids safe.
Because you stand in the place of their parents, the ones who love those kids the most.
And you do it because you love them, too.