The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 22, 2013

Teachers shouldn’t have to be heroes

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Teachers shouldn’t have to be heroes.

Their jobs are tough enough. They must teach, to be sure, but they also have to inspire their students to want to learn.

They must keep good order and discipline, must keep up with the superior student and endeavor to keep the struggling ones from falling behind.

Often they must try to reach students who, because of circumstances in their home life, are all-but unreachable.

Teachers have to be cops and caretakers, surrogate parents and stern-faced tongue-lashers, sometimes from one breath to the next.

Teachers can’t wear their feelings on their sleeves.

Some kids will break their hearts, while others will do their darndest to break their spirit.

Teachers must quickly learn that often the children who are the most obstreperous, the most unlovable, are the ones that need love the most.

Teachers can’t be friends to their students, but don’t need to make enemies of them, either.

It’s a delicate dance, a time-consuming, emotionally exhausting gavotte whose ideal final step is always the same, to give every student the best chance to succeed.

But teachers shouldn’t have to be heroes.

They shouldn’t have to put their lives at risk to try and stop someone from harming or killing the students in their charge.

That’s not in the job description, is not covered in any college class or education textbook.

Perhaps one day it will be.

Maybe teachers will have to be trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat, or taught to shoot and field-strip a weapon at the same time they are learning to impart knowledge to other people’s children who would often rather be anywhere but in school.

Michael Landsberry was a hero. Landsberry did have combat training, since he was a former Marine and National Guardsman who served several tours in Afghanistan.

Landsberry was primarily concerned about teaching his students factoring, exponents and roots, proportional relationships, monomials and polynomials, not about staying alive.

He survived extended periods in a combat zone, so teaching middle school in Sparks, Nev., must have looked like a walk in the park in comparison.

And it was, that is, until Monday, when a troubled 12-year-old with a handgun turned Landsberry’s middle school reality on its head.

In an instant he found himself back in a combat zone, except he was not in the scruffy hills of Logar province, but in the familiar hallways of his school.

Landsberry saw the young shooter point his weapon at the chest of another student, and he acted quickly, stepping between the young gunman and his intended victim.

Calmly, quietly, Landsberry tried to talk the shooter down.

He implored him to stop the violence and put down the gun.

The teacher then held out his hand and urged the student to give him the weapon.

Witnesses said the student then yelled “No,” and shot Landsberry nearly point-blank.

Michael Landsberry died protecting the students of Sparks Middle School, youngsters who affectionately called him “Mr. L.”

In the coming weeks, investigators will try to piece together the suspect’s life and experiences, to try and find a reason for the violent outburst.

Likely all the answers will never come.

But nobody has to question why Michael Landsberry did what he did on Monday morning.

His sister-in-law told the Associated Press his life could be summed up by his love of his family, his students and his country.

Actually, it’s OK for teachers to be heroes, but they should earn that distinction for deeds like helping a student nobody thought could succeed to do just that.

Or for convincing a kid with one foot in dropout-land to stick it out and to eventually walk across the stage clutching a high school diploma, wearing a cap, a gown and an ear-to-ear grin.

In truth, teachers are routinely heroes. They just shouldn’t have to sacrifice their lives to be hailed as such.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at