"When I heard about it, I just wanted to hug my child so hard when they got home from school!" That was the response of many parents when they first heard of the shooting tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut.
As the news unfolded, we saw the photo of school children, fear and confusion on their faces but scurrying in a line to safety under the supervision of their teacher. We learned of teachers who heard the shots, pulled students from the hallway, locked their classroom door and kept students safe in closets. And we learned of teachers who threw themselves in front of their students as a shield—and lost their lives.
Caring and heroic teachers are not unique to the Connecticut school. Teachers have protected their students as their own and given their lives at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere.
During the 9/11 attack, nearby schools began to be showered with debris falling from the Twin Towers. Teachers heroically evacuated their students from the impending disaster, making sure not one was left behind. Not one teacher abandoned their students even when their own child was in a classroom nearby.
At Virginia Tech in 2007, college instructors showed the same commitment to their students. 27 students were killed as well as five faculty members who were barring doors, sheltering students or engineering safe exit.
The most horrendous in modern times was an assault by militants on a school in Beslan in South Ossetia on September 1, 2004 where over 770 children were taken hostage. At the end of three days, 186 students had been killed along with many, many teachers.
The Connecticut parents who rushed to the fire station staging area to pick up their children found them clinging to teachers who would not abandon them.
This is "in loco parentis" in action. It is a legal principle where K-12 school staff stand "in the place of the parent." From the time we drop off our children at school or they get on the school bus, to the time they leave school, schools to some extent assume parental responsibility.
But we did not see a force of legal contracts or required duty in these teachers’ actions. Teachers’ acts of courage and sacrifice in our rare cases of school violence do not come from law. There was no such in loco parentis law in South Ossetia, yet those teachers gave their lives for their schoolchildren. In loco parentis no longer applies to American public universities; yet five Virginia Tech teachers made the ultimate sacrifice for their students.
Such actions by teachers are not about law. Teaching is a profession of "caring."
Schools are not like factories or businesses or locked-down prisons.
Schools are like home.
To our children, both home and school are where grown-ups care for you.
At home, your parents will sacrifice everything to save you.
And at school, your teachers will serve..."in the place of the parent."