In Sunday’s sermon, I read the comments of Waynel Mayes, a teacher at a Moore, OK, elementary school and niece of Union Church members Al and Alice White. Waynel was interviewed on CNN and wrote these comments at the request of the Governor of Oklahoma. Her words give us all a window on both the terror of the experience, and the extraordinary gift each and every teacher was and is. Thanks to Alice White for sharing this with me, and with the whole church.
You might be interested to know that Waynel and many other teachers in Oklahoma now face an uncertain future: The governor is considering reducing and or eliminating teacher pensions in order to pay for new storm shelters, and it’s not clear whether there will be schools to return to in Moore, so there may be no job at all next year. Please hold these brave and sacrificing teachers in your prayers. They are clearly worth their weight in gold for the education and safety of our children. Perhaps we all ought to mention that to every Governor who might have plans for fewer benefits for them. –Rev. Kent
I am honored to have been asked to represent all of the teachers who acted with calm courage in the face of a terrorizing tornado. My story is similar to all of their stories and I speak with respect and admiration for their actions and words.
Our story begins at the time my children are scheduled to be in the gym. On Monday, the art, P.E. and music teachers brought the first grade children back to their classrooms early, because of the weather updates we were receiving. Shortly after our children got in the classroom, the secretary announced that we should take immediate tornado precautions. We have practiced tornado procedures many times. We knew what to do. Move to the interior wall and cover our heads. Very quickly, we were told this was not a drill. When the teacher beside me stepped over to my classroom and showed me live feed of the tornado on her i-Pad, I knew I had to do more than we have ever practiced. I told the students I needed their help in moving their desks to the wall. The children asked why, and said we were going to play a game. I did not want them to be scared. After we got the desks in place, I told the students to get under their desks. I later learned that my colleagues were also getting their children under desks, or tables, or shielding them with their own bodies.
Most of us use music on a daily basis to promote intellectual and emotional development. So it was natural that many of us used music to calm the children through this crisis, knowing the power of music to soothe. My students got out musical instruments that we use to learn about patterns. We played the instruments, and then we started singing. First we sang, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” They made us some new verses, like, “He’s got the big old doggies in His hands.” Around me, other teachers were leading their children in songs like The Star Spangled Banner, Fifty Nifty United States and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Soon, one of my children asked if we could sing Jesus Loves Me. This did not surprise me, as my children frequently came in on Monday mornings telling me their memory verse from Sunday School, and singing songs they learned at church. I knew they would be comforted by singing Jesus Loves Me, as would I. The children started hearing the roar of the approaching tornado, but we kept singing Jesus Loves Me. I told them we would sing louder, and when they couldn’t hear my voice any longer they could scream, but not before. When we could bear it no longer, they screamed, but the teacher assistant and I kept singing. Debris started falling around us, and there was so much dirt in the air it turned black and then everything stopped and we were in darkness. The children were crying, but I kept telling them they were heroes because they did what I asked them to do. Then I called their names. We were trapped by debris and we couldn’t move anything. I asked the children to count by 2’s, then by 5’s and 10’s to focus their minds on something they know. I told them we would be seeing a real live hero, and one of the boys asked, “Like KD?” I laughed and said, “No, a fireman or a policeman. When our hero gets here, let’s use our musical instruments and bang real loud on the desks so he can find us. The children said, “Okay.” I told the children how proud I was of them, and they started talking about the storm and how they felt. They said they were scared, and some were still crying. When someone outside said “Hello,” they started banging the desks and calling, “We’re here.” A man was able to move some debris to create a hole big enough for us to get out. When all of us were out, I saw that many parents and residents of our community had rushed to the school to help rescue all of us. We will forever be grateful to them. This is why we choose to work for Moore Schools. All teachers teach because of their love for children. That was never more apparent than on this terrible day that brought out the best in our teachers, our administrators, our parents, and most of all, our children.
There are still many uncertainties to be faced in the days ahead, but of this one thing I am sure: Jesus loves me, this I know.