The teachers at Plaza Towers Elementary School had a sixteen-minute warning. As one of the most destructive tornadoes barreled towards the school, educators evacuated the older children—the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders—to a nearby church. But the younger children sought shelter within the school building, and teachers stayed with them.
Sixth-grade teacher Rhonda Crosswhite was among those who stayed behind. She hid in a bathroom stall with six of the children and draped herself across them as the tornado struck. Students screamed and begged for her not to die. She shouted reassurances back and prayed. By the time the tornado had passed, it had completely shredded the school building around them. There were children who didn’t survive. But Crosswhite and the children she protected all lived.
Crosswhite’s story is already one of the best-known examples of teacher heroism to emerge from Monday night’s devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. There are others: educators at Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary pulled children out of the rubble, shielded them from harm, or just comforted them in the face of unimaginable destruction. Last December, several teachers and a principal at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, died along with students when a gunman entered the school and opened fire. Other teachers hid their students in classrooms and closets, helping them to be quiet and safe until the shooting stopped.