CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Let's talk about what we expect when emergencies happen. What do we expect from the theater manager in Aurora? To call 911 and assist police as much as possible? Sure. To run down the aisle of the theater and unarmed, attempt to stop a heavily armed killer? No. How about the supermarket manager in Tucson when a killer opened fire in front of the store? Or retail managers in the mall in Clackamas Ore.? None are expected to physically confront a heavily armed intruder. Call 911 and do your best to keep customers safe. That is what we expect of you.
Now consider the case of teachers from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook. At Columbine, teacher Dave Sanders made students in the cafeteria get away from the windows and get down on the floor, making the cafeteria look empty when the killers looked in. He was later shot in a stairwell, crawled into a science room and despite students' efforts to treat him, died as rescuers arrived. Professor Liviu Librescu blocked a doorway with his body while students escaped through windows at Virginia Tech. He and four other professors died in the attack. And now we have those wonderful, brave elementary teachers, custodian, school psychologist and principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Principal Hochsprung lunged at the shooter and was killed. Victoria Soto crammed all her students into a tiny bathroom. There was no room for her so she stepped out. She was shot immediately, but her students were not. Four other brave educators gave their lives to protect the students in their care. I have no doubt their actions were instinctual and teachers at every level across the country would react the same way.
We expect firefighters and police to run toward danger. They are trained for it and know it could happen at any time. Our brave military personnel are ready to defend us from the world's worst at a moment's notice. They are trained and ready. When and how did school teachers get on that list? No teacher training program ever started with, "If a heavily armed, mentally disturbed person shoots his way into your school, this is what you do." Teachers react so courageously through instinct and an overwhelming need to protect those in their charge, even unto death. Who will protect the educators?
What will America do about this? Is this the new norm? Should we turn kindergarten classrooms into heavily fortified and guarded prisons? Why have we cut funding in mental health and refused to address the rising flood of high-powered guns with oversize ammunition clips? This nation has some serious discussions coming. Answers will be difficult.
In the mean time, there is something every American can do, starting today. Respect teachers for the jobs they do every day and for the decisions we hope they will never have to make. Know that they are heroes-in-waiting, always ready. Respect that. Respect them.
Coulson, of Charleston, is executive director of the state Office of Career and Technical Innovation and the husband of an elementary school teacher.