Teacher Rhonda Crosswhite reunited with student Damian Britton on TODAY
All too often we downplay the incredible role teachers play in our children's lives and forget how lucky we are to have them care for our kids.
We joke about how many holidays they get, we complain about the amount of homework they set, we grumble about the inconvenience of pupil-free days.
But then something like the Oklahoma tornado tragedy happens and our hearts swell. The stories of teacher’s battling to save the lives of their students during the monster tornado are so beautiful.
THIS is how much teachers really love our children. THIS is how much they care.
The tornado struck two Oklahoma schools just before pick-up time. Parents didn’t know whether to leave home or work to collect their kids and risk being caught in the storm or wait it out and pick them up once it was over. Most chose to wait.
Oklahoma is used to tornadoes, they are well-prepared and schools have excellent procedures in place. But nobody could prepare for the enormity of the storm that was about to hit.
At Plaza Towers Elementary School the principal’s voice came over the intercom announcing a severe storm was approaching. Students were told to go to the cafeteria to wait for their parents. But before they could all get there the tornado alarm sound. It had arrived and most students were still in their classrooms.
“All the teachers started screaming into the room and saying, ‘Get into the hallway!’, sixth-grader Phaedra Dunn told ABC News. “We just took off running.” The school started to come apart immediately.
Sixth-grader Antonio Clark said a teacher took him and others and shoved them into the three-stall boy’s bathroom. “We were all piled in on each other,” he told ABC News. While there a teacher wrapped her arms around two students and held Antonio’s hand.
Image courtesy of ABC News
At Briarwood Elementary a third-grade teacher was worried the hall didn’t look safe so ushered children into a closet. A teacher shielded 8-year-old Gabriel Wheeler and other students in a closet, shielding their faces from glass as the roof came off and the windows shattered.
Sheri Bittle, a first-grade teacher at Briarwood said the roaring of the storm terrified her kids. Most were cowering in their classrooms with their teachers, their backpacks over their heads. Many were crying and asking for their parents. One child asked, "Is this really happening?"
Cindy, a teacher at Briarwood Elementary said she'd stepped out of the classroom and saw the tornado coming. She realised straight away how serious it was. She said she moved quickly, 'getting them covered up, you know, we'd practised tornado drills and things like this and I had to tell them this is not a drill. Just laying my body on top of as many kids as I could.'
Sixth-grade teacher Rhonda Crosswhite said she wasn’t afraid for herself when she lay across six students inside Plaza Tower’s Elementary School’s bathroom. She was later reunited with Damian Britton, a fourth-grader who was in the bathroom with her.
She told TODAY, “One of my little boys just said, he just kept saying, ‘I love you, I love you, please don’t die with me, please don’t die with me,’”. She told them they were going to be fine and then started praying. Later when she was praised by parents for helping their kids she said, “Just doing our job.”
So many photos have emerged of teachers carrying students, holding their hands and hugging them.
The death toll from the massive tornado has been revised lower at 24, including nine children. Seven of those children died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. 237 people have been injured, three schools demolished and thousands of home flattened.
It took hours for some parents to get to their kids. Walking for kilometres around debris they arrived at night, not knowing what they'd find. Teachers stayed with their students at both schools until all parents had arrived.
More tornadoes are predicted. We can only hope they aren't as massive as this one.
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