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A Memorial and Message of Gratitude for Educators

In the past few days, we have all shared in the grief that has resulted from the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Rightfully so, much of that pain has been due to the loss of so many children.  I simply have no words for this.  Part of my job as a blogger and writer are to sift through pages of news releases about stories like this.  I don’t mind telling you that some of these stories have made me tear up. 

Amidst the dark and looming clouds of this tragedy, I have found a bright silver lining that has worked miracles to restore my faith in us as a people.  I spend a lot of time discussing the worst of humanity.  The hate.  The bigotry.  The greed.  Some of the stories that I have read are such an antitheses to the darkness of mankind, which is also present in the stories, that they have allowed me to be hopeful that maybe, just maybe, most of us aren’t so terrible that society is on the verge of apocalypse.  Okay…maybe that’s slightly dramatic, but that’s how I feel sometimes. 

The stories of which I’m speaking are the stories of the bravery that the teachers and educators of Sandy Hook displayed on that fateful day.  Here are some highlights.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung – died while attempting to overpower the gunman as he entered the school.

Mary Sherlach – school psychologist died along side Principal Hochsprung in an attempt to stop the gunman.

Victoria Soto – teacher killed right after she moved her first graders into a safer area away from the classroom door. 

Lauren Rousseau – hired recently as a substitute for a teacher who was on maternity leave.

Anne Marie Murphy – teacher killed while attempting to shield students who were also found dead.

Rachel D’Avino – behavioral therapist who took on the incredibly honorable task of working with autistic children.

As I wrote this, the first sentence that I typed below these names was that these people gave the ultimate sacrifice for children who were not their own.  Then I thought of the teachers that I know personally.  Each of them talks about their classes using the term “my kids.”  These people feel a very deep and personal responsibility for each of their students. 

The stories of the teachers who lived through the incident are as brave as those who died.

Library clerk Mary Anne Jacobs told the students that it was a drill, moved them into a closet, and gave them crayons and paper to keep them distracted from the horrors outside.

Music teacher Maryrose Kristopik blocked the door of her classroom with xylophones. 

Janet Vollmer, a first grade teacher, read a story to her students to keep them calm.

Virginia Gunn kept her class quiet while using her cell phone to contact police. 

Caitlin Roig, a young first-grade teacher turned off the lights to her classroom and tried to explain the situation to her students.  When one of them began to cry she told him to show her his smile.  She re-assured them that she loved them and that everything would be okay.  She refused to open the door, even for police, until she was sure that the students were going to be safe. 

These stories are evidence that we have overlooked and marginalized one of our most important and honorable groups of people.  These are people who accept the responsibility of educating our children…of caring for them day after day.  They do it regardless of the fact that they are blamed for many of the problems that our children have.  They do it with budget cuts forcing them to find ways to provide better education with fewer resources.  They do it for so little pay that many of them are forced to keep second jobs.  They do it amid innumerable hardships simply because they are educators.  They have taken on this mantle – with all of the hardships that it includes.  When tested, they show their honor and heroism.  They show us the very nature of what it means to be caring, gentle, and unimaginably brave. 

With the sacrifice of our soldiers, we often take the time to thank those who have served in the military.

Since the sacrifice of the emergency responders on 9/11, we often take the time to stop and thank our police, firefighters, and emergency personnel.

I encourage you…the next time you see your child’s teacher, or any educator, take a minute to thank them.  Thank them for their dedication.  Thank them for their sacrifice.  Thank them for the choice that they have made to spend their lives working in one of the most thankless, low-paid, honorable, and important professions.  Thank them for being one of the few people in the world who cares so much about your children that they will refer to them as their own.

My sincerest condolences to the friends and family of the victims at Sandy Hook.  To the friends and family of the educators – while this will never ease the pain you feel – you can be so very proud of the bravery that these people showed when faced with unspeakable horror.  They are truly heroes.

I want to extend a personal thank you to the educators who are involved in the life of my own child.  I also want to extend that same thank you to my friends who have taken on this role.  You are some of the greatest people I know. 

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