My name is Myra Richardson. I am the director/producer of the documentary, DYING TO TEACH: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, "Educators Who Bully". I was honored to have spent several days with Mary Thorson's family while working on the film. It was evident after having interviewed her parents, brother, best friend, and teachers both within and outside of district 169 in Illinois, that Mary's death wasn't a typical suicide. She felt that in order to expose the severe levels of abuse suffered by other teachers (allegedly at the hands of the superintendent and principal within her middle school), its adverse impact on the students, and the poor condition of the institution, she would need to sacrifice her life in the most public and brutal way conceivable. Mary stood in front of an oncoming semi-truck on Thanksgiving Day, 2011.
A 6 page suicide letter mentioned her choice to be the first to sign the petition, and not wanting her death to be in vain. This made it more than apparent that Mary's objective was to shake up the district and possibly the state. The outcry from teachers in relation to the January 1st, 2012 article by Becky Schlikerman of the Chicago Tribune was massive - I was one of those teachers. The story spoke of the shock waves that permeated the tiny, impoverished community, and the teachers so afraid to speak that they only nodded when questioned about the bullying.
During my stay with Mary's parents, John and Shari Thorson, I was shown personal items belonging to their daughter, e.g., a medal for building schools in Usulutan, El Salvador, home movies of her many accomplishments, her degrees, and her beautiful artwork. This young woman had been in the Army Reserve for 8 years. She was more than prepared to defend our country. Mary knew no fear...except that of having to be without her students, whom she affectionately referred to as her babies. Once she refused to commit the highly unethical act of altering poor grades for the sake of continued funding within the institution, she became a target. And yet, she still refused to abandon the children until everything was snatched from underneath her.
It isn't often that you have an opportunity to walk in the shadow of greatness. This young teacher sacrificed her life for the teachers within district 169 and for the children. I don't believe Mary ever dreamed that she would touch so many lives...even beyond death. I have never done a project of this magnitude in my life. I still don't truly understand why I chose to tell Mary's story, especially since I have no background in film making. I do know that I felt compelled. I believe in God...not ashamed to say it. I believe that this was his will. It's one of the most important things I've ever accomplished. My purpose in doing this documentary, is to make the audience aware of what Mary had been subjected to within Cottage Grove Middle School. I want the audience to experience the indescribable loss suffered by her family. I want the audience to understand the fear which teachers contend with everyday in silence. I want the audience to be angry. I want the audience to feel that someone was taken away from them as well.
This past August, Mary's documentary was requested by the Save Our Schools organization for their convention in Washington, DC. It was such an important moment for teachers. Now, I want to share this film with as many persons as possible. I pray that it continues to make a difference. I want this issue to be taken seriously - if not, more teachers will surely die.
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