Saturday, December 22, 2012

Quiet Heroism and Acts of Kindness

As I sat down to write a blog tonight -- not about the sadness or difficulty of the week, but thankfulness for the people I work with, the volunteers, the children -- acts of kindness that touch my heart -- I found this column from the Charlotte Observer.  The columnist, teacher Kay McSpadden, said it so much better than I could -- so here is her column.

Quiet heroism in schools daily

By Kay McSpadden
Special to the Observer
About the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary…
I don’t want to talk about gun control or about our attitude in this country about guns and ownership.
And I don’t want to talk about the difficulty of getting good mental health services for suffering people – or even about the stigma and expense involved because our health care system has failed us.
I don’t want to talk about how schools in this country have changed since Columbine – how we practice lockdown every month, how armed resource officers are a normal part of the staff, how new schools are designed to keep visitors out, observed, recorded.
And I certainly don’t want to talk about the grand act of heroism of the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who reportedly confronted the shooter, or the teacher who hid her young students and then lied about where they were before she was killed.
I don’t want to talk about that sort of heroism – the kind few of us are ever called on to witness, much less emulate. I can’t bear to talk about any of those things right now. Later, when the shock and immediate anguish have softened, we’ll talk then.
Right now I want to talk about the quiet kind of heroism that I see every day when I go to work at a public high school in America.
I want to talk about the first people on our campus every morning, the cafeteria staff who arrive in the dark to start breakfast. In my school district, almost two-thirds of our students live below the poverty level, qualifying them for either a reduced price meal or a free one.
Every time I write about the meal program, readers complain that feeding children is a parent’s responsibility, that some people are using the program fraudulently. I’m not going to talk about that now. What I want to say is that no criticism, justified or not, truthful or misinformed, takes away from the quiet heroism of the cafeteria workers who feed hungry children.
I want to tell you about the custodians, the people who get to school before I do and who are still there when I leave. The custodian who cleans my classroom clears the trash and vacuums the carpet, wipes down the desks with disinfectant, polishes the windows – and then she cleans the hall bathrooms and water fountains before moving to another classroom, and another and another. My school is cleaner than my house because of her daily heroism.
I want to talk about the school bus drivers who pick up their first students before 6 a.m. The rural district where I work is so large, so spread out, so poor, that half our students ride the bus, even to high school. Of all the jobs I can think of doing, getting up before dawn to warm up a drafty bus and then driving a load of noisy students isn’t something I would choose.
The secretaries and bookkeepers and registrars and attendance officers are my heroes, too – the way they juggle the needs of the many with dignity and patience, the way the school cannot function without them.
And the guidance counselors and media specialists and resource officers and principals and aides and coaches – watchful shepherds and surrogate parents who joke and tease and advise and worry about our students – they are unsung heroes, too.
Every teacher is a hero to some child. The teachers I know speak of their students in the possessive – “my students, my kids, my class” – not rhetorically but genuinely, giving them gifts of time and care both in the classroom and beyond, opening up the world to them, handing them tools for making their way in it later on their own.
And I want to talk about the quiet heroism of the students themselves, students I know who woke up cold this morning in an empty apartment and got themselves and younger siblings ready for school, who caught a bus at 5:55 a.m. and rode more than an hour to eat a warm breakfast in a crowded cafeteria, heading to a long day of English and math and art and history and science and marketing and computer teachers telling them that they can do it, that even when no one else believes in them the teachers do – and so do the principals and guidance counselors, as do all the adults at the school. These people perform deeds of quiet heroism, without question, today and tomorrow and the day after that.
That’s what I want to talk about now – the small acts I witness every day – because the larger sacrifices are too new, too wrenching, too horribly familiar to bear the weight of words just yet. That’s because those of us who care about our children have lost our voices to grief.
Guest columnist Kay McSpadden is author of “Notes from a Classroom: Reflections on Teaching.” Write her at

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