A couple weeks ago, Cora and I were lucky enough to meet one of my favorite children’s book authors of all time – Patricia Polacco. She has written 115 books in 32 years, all beautifully illustrated by herself, many telling stories from deep within her family history. They are incredible; they will make you laugh, cry and feel so much just from the pages of a children’s book. It is a family joke in our house that I can’t read one aloud without crying. I dare you to read “Pink and Say” or “The Butterfly” and not let loose a stream of tears. However, I don’t bring this up to tell you about her amazing list of books. I mention her because she said something that I can’t get out of my head. I’ve been thinking about it all week. She struggled immensely as a student and was telling the guests at her book signing about how a couple teachers helped her find her way. “Teachers are some of our last real heroes,” she said. Now, to be fair, she was talking about getting help with severe dyslexia and other issues, but after the events in Florida this past week, I keep hearing her words in my mind.     
    I debated writing about other topics this week, but in truth, this was the only topic I kept coming back to. It gives me goosebumps, makes my stomach turn and scares me to pieces – all at the same time. I know I’m not alone in any of these feelings.
    I keep thinking about my dear teacher friends going through their ALICE training, the most recent a few weeks ago. I think about them hearing shooting over the loudspeaker for practice of how they would respond. I think of them having to go through simulated injuries to make split-second decisions. I think of them having to keep all of this potential fear compartmentalized while they try to teach our children the many lessons they need to succeed in life.
    ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, and is touted as the No. 1 Active Shooter Civilian Response Training for all organizations. According to their website, they have trained 4,200 K-12 school districts in our nation since Columbine.
    As a former teacher, I know these teachers didn’t sign up for this. This wasn’t a class you took in college. I don’t even think it was a discussion we had when I was in the elementary education program in college. They go to school day after day, trying to drill the basics into students’ heads. These are the things they went to college to learn how to do. They are busy teaching how to read, how to solve algebraic equations, how to memorize the elements, how to sew, what the ancient cultures gave to us and how to use the Dewey Decimal system to find a book in the library. There are also the things that don’t come from books: how to be a good friend, a good teammate, how to talk things out, how to be respectful of others’ ideas that differ from yours, how to navigate the world of peer pressure, what to do when your body is changing and how to show someone kindness. Some of you just read that last sentence and thought those were jobs of the parents, didn’t you? Sure, but these are changing times, and teachers are doing a lot of teaching that doesn’t come with a prescribed lesson plan.
    These teachers go to school every morning with the belief that they will make a difference in the young lives that come in and out of their rooms. They hope their students will learn things within the walls of their school they can use in the real world, lessons to help them in everyday life. They keep their doors open so students know they are always willing to listen to any problems they have, however mundane they may be. They hold fast to the belief that we as humans are innately good and remind students of that daily with examples from the world. They will replay words they said in frustration to their students hours later, hoping they didn’t close a door that was just beginning to open with a stubborn pupil. They watch their classroom for signs of not only academic struggles, but struggles with hunger, home life and fellow classmates. They listen beyond the words coming out of children’s mouths and read between the lines, watching for signs that someone might be slipping through the cracks.
    As if all of these things weren’t enough to keep them busy, now they need to think about escape routes and hatch a split second evacuation plan if their ultimate fear ever arises. What would they do if their sanctuary of learning would be broken by that horrific sound? They stifle fear and replace it with a welcoming smile and a good attitude. They have heavy hearts every time they hear of another tragedy and look at the faces in front of them and search for things they may be missing. These teachers are often not in the same classrooms as their own children, yet they would protect yours and mine as if they were theirs.
    Patricia Polacco was right. Teachers are heroes. They believe the future can be brighter, with the help of the students in their classroom. They nurture, encourage and remind them that this world is theirs, too. That everyone is valued and belongs. They believe that kindness will prevail. It has to.
    “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.