Antoinette Tuff, the McNair Discovery Learning Academy clerk everyone is talking about did something this week that I hope will live in the memory of us all. She coolly and calmly talked down a man who threatened not only her life, but also the lives of the children and staff at the school. How did she do this? How does someone keep his or her cool when most of us would simply freak out? How differently would the outcome have been had Ms. Tuff reacted as most of us would have reacted? What if she had screamed, tried to hide under the counter, thrown something, or just been too paralyzed with fear to speak? The memory of what happened at Sandy Hook is still so fresh that we all quake at what could have happened in comparison to what did happen at McNair.
I ask myself what I would have done, had I been confronted with this same situation? When I was a classroom teacher I was confronted with something slightly similar when a student, who was small for his age in comparison to the other students, brought a loaded handgun to school. This boy had been bullied and taunted and decided he would equalize the situation by waving a pistol at the perpetrator in an attempt to stop the torment. Because most middle school students are incapable of keeping secrets, the pistol was discovered and the situation was defused. What happened to me was not even close to what happened to Ms. Tuff when a man with an AK-47 and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition confronted her.
How did Ms. Tuff do it? How did she tap into what could only be her inherent humanity and her ability to empathize with this person? Faith? Experience? I think Ms. Tuff personifies what we try to teach our students-- showing empathy. She says she isn’t a hero, but I think that is what all true heroes say.
To me the lesson of what could have been a shockingly tragic day at McNair is that we, as a community, must foster and teach the traits Ms. Tuff exhibited. Compassion and empathy need to be integrated into our curriculum and into our practice. I am not naïve enough to think kind words and empathetic behaviors will avert every tragedy, but we have to start somewhere. What if everyone reading this makes a pledge to emulate Ms. Tuff? Show empathy and compassion. Our world will be a better, safer and kinder place. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to ourselves. Thank you, Ms. Tuff, for showing us another way. Make no mistake, Ms. Tuff is a hero.