It never enters my mind that each day I walk into a classroom, it could be the day it all ends.
But that’s precisely what occurred for Dawn Hochsprung, Ann Marie Murphy, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Russeau, Rachel D’Avino and Victoria Soto that tragic morning.
As they taught their lessons and prepared for meetings, teachers, administrators and school personnel around the country were doing the same or gearing up for it.
At the time their lives were ripped away from them, I sat in a teacher’s lounge mulling over the itinerary of classes I was assigned to cover that day. Far away from the carnage, my main concerns were to manage the students in the CWC (class within a class for students who need additional instructional support) effectively.
Each day is different for me as a substitute teacher, I used to joke that it was a successful day if I and the kids made it out in one piece.
As my Facebook news feed began to filter through reports of a shooting at an elementary school, my initial thought was frustration.
Was it a parental issue?
Had a child brought something to school and opened fire?
Was it a personal situation for a staff member that found its way into the hallways of a “safe place?”
As I read accounts of those fateful minutes and watched the growing number of lives lost my frustration grew into heartbreak, helplessness.
My own son, five years old, was delivered to his classroom by his father at the time 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary took their final breaths. A mere four miles away from the high school I was teaching at, it felt like he was a thousand miles away. I wanted to grab my things and go to him immediately.
And yet I couldn’t just leave.
I had a commitment to fulfill to my own students, to the parents that sent them to the building with expectations of their child returning to them. An obligation that superseded my pangs as an individual and as a mother.
For all the talk about what a teacher is worth, so few understand the mix of training, personality and natural talent involved.
There is so much that goes into the makeup of a true teacher that can never be taught in the halls of a university, or assessed in percentages and pay scales.
Compassion, leadership, loyalty, integrity, stickwithit-ness; an understanding of how children interpret the world around them, tough talks, healing hugs, listening ears, open minds and most importantly, an open heart. These are just some of the attributes we remember of our own teachers.
Those women did not run down the hallway, stuff their children in closets and bathrooms and lunge at that troubled individual because of a contract. They did not do it with intentions of martyrdom. They did it because they had the ability to see the brightness of the future in the eyes of their young muses.
Every day they spent in the school building, with their 600 students, these adults directed the potential energy residing in each child.
Layer by layer, each child’s experience in the classroom sets the tone of days and years to come. Their experience as students and individuals feeds into our experience as educators and individuals. Cycling one through the other the next page of what will be is written.
Even in their physical absence, the actions of a principal, psychologist and teachers continue to direct the course of the future for millions of school children. Tough discussions about gun control and what schools need to ensure safety are reinvigorated, focused on something more tangible than an amendment.
I thank you ladies for your sacrifice.
Back in Kansas, at 3:30 p.m., I was fortunate enough to leave my school to pick my son up from preschool.
My son, who I longed for all day, frowned at the sight of me.
“I want my daddy to pick me up,” he moaned through the curls covering my ear. I kissed him anyway—I figured this difference in opinion was a good sign of the normalcy of my life.
I took the sign out sheet from the paraprofessional assigned to my son’s class, initialed that I had retrieved my kid and handed it off to another parent.
Overcome with grief and gratefulness, I extended my arms and hugged the para. “Thank you so much for taking care of him while I’m away,” I croaked; I wasn’t even sure that she understood why I felt the need to embrace her.
I thought to myself, “I should pull away now.” She held me tighter.
I wanted to bawl because I knew she and the preschool teacher might be all that stood between my child and an unfortunate event—I knew that I might be all that stood between life or death for the students each day I considered my own.
Instead, I cleared the tears that escaped against my will and grabbed my son’s hand to head home.
I decided that final expense would be fine by me to do what I love, to work with the young people I believe so deeply in…for everything that is worth.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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