“Take me instead. They’re just babies.”
That was the prayer of those babies’ teacher, Anna Canaday. When the Oklahoma tornado hit Plaza Towers Elementary School, she and her colleague, Jessica Simonds, tried to get the kindergartners to shelter. There was no time. She shielded her babies with her body, saving them when a black Ford blew into the school hallway and fell on top of her. When rescuers removed the car, they found the two teachers badly hurt. The children were under them had minor scratches.
Anna was not alone in a spontaneous combustion of courage. So many others acted with no thought of their own safety – they only thought of their babies. They calmed frightened children so that they were able to march them into closets and bathrooms and under desks. They hugged them and comforted them. They loved them.
Second-grade teacher, Tammy Glasgow, led her babies into the bathroom. She held on to her babies and kept saying, “I love you. You know I love you.” The babies all kept saying, “I love you, too.” When it was all over, they looked up, and could see sky. The tornado had blown the roof off the bathroom. Tammy walked her babies calmly out of the shattered building, knowing it could still collapse upon them.
Suzanne Haley crowded her babies under their desks to protect them from falling pieces of the roof. Then she put herself in front of the desks to shield the little ones beneath. She was impaled by the leg of one of those desks, but never let on to the kids. She said, “I had to be calm for them.”
What is remarkable about these acts of heroism is that they were the rule, not the exception. Educators – teachers, support staff and principals – are not trained to put their lives on the line in the way that firefighters, soldiers and police officers are. It’s not part of the contract. It’s part of our souls.
We wanted to work in a school because we have such a profound love for someone else’s baby. Tammy Glasgow said, “We did our best to take care of them and make them feel loved and secure. People talked about us being brave, but it’s just our job. We love these kids like they’re our own.”
They do not train us to place our bodies in harms way to protect our students because they don’t have to. For educators, it is simply a natural thing, even in the most deadly of situations. We saw it bus driver Chuck Poland who was shot to death trying to prevent a kidnapping on his school bus. A parent said of Chuck, “When the kids got on his bus, they were no longer their parents’ kids. They were his.”
We saw it at Newtown. We saw it at Columbine. They are heroes. They are angels, “Nuestros ángeles”. They didn’t mean to be. They simply couldn’t be anything else when it came to protecting their babies.
(The Oklahoma tornado has devastated schools, homes and lives. If you can help with a donation, click here.)