Christmas is a time for joy, anticipation and wonder, as seen through the eyes of a child. Decorations, garland and colored lights accent the festive mood. Children wait with great anticipation for Christmas morning to see if their letters to Santa have been read and the toys requested have been delivered. But in a little town in Connecticut, Christmas decorations have given way to memorials, condolences have replaced carols, and candles burn in mourning as a reminder of what is tearing at the heart of its people. On Friday, December 14th, the nation stood in shock as it realized that once again a school, which we consider havens for safety, was brutally violated.
Like every other educator, I pondered how such a horrific tragedy could invade a place where safety is presumed, where the innocence of children is treasured and preserved. How can the sanctuary of learning become a national news story of horror and disbelief? What possesses another human being to snuff out the life of a child?
Yet, through all this sorrow, grief and turmoil, as an educator I stand in awe. In this time of heartache and anguish I am reminded what it means when a teacher surrenders oneself for their students. The principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, Dawn Hochsprung, and six of her teachers gave the ultimate sacrifice on that Friday morning, December 14th. There was only one objective—to keep the children safe at whatever cost. This was beyond lesson plans and meeting standards. This is not something you find in a textbook; this is at the core of a teacher’s calling. Keep the children from harm.
Some news journalists have been struggling on how to portray the acts of these teachers; naturally they apply the term “heroes” to their actions. But it is more than just heroism–it is in the very fiber of what a teacher is and does. The reason why the journalists have such a difficult time is because they do not understand all that it entails to be a teacher. To the general public these seem extraordinary, but to the teacher it is normal—it is who they are and what they do!
The principal and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary gave a witness and testimony that cost them their lives. But even in the deliberate decision they made, they were teachers to the end. They taught us what it means to go beyond oneself for others. They taught us that even though there is a scepter of evil that sometimes overshadows our life, there are also rays of hope and love. They taught us that it does take courage to teach. It goes beyond the classroom walls, or a school calendar, or test scores. It is the realization that teachers give totally of themselves, many times at great expense, even to the point of losing their own life.
The trauma experienced because of this horrific act will have its impact. It will now take the heroic effort of those teachers left behind to begin to heal the wounds of a fractured community, and once again these teachers will give freely of themselves so that their children will reclaim their innocence. From those teachers who died and to those teachers who will keep their memory alive, the nation has been given a compelling lesson of what it means to be a teacher.