Like the rest of the world, I am in awe of the heroic actions of the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School, but surprised? Not at all. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Teachers everywhere know the drill. A few times a year, we practice, in anticipation of the unthinkable. The principal comes over the intercom and tells teachers to secure their classrooms. We immediately go out into the hall and hustle any child out there into our room before locking the doors. We tell the children to get away from the doors and the windows and get down on the floor. We stick together. You don’t have one child across the room and another under his desk. We’re all in this together. The drill is a balancing act between having the children take it seriously and not scaring them.
The teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School no doubt practiced these drills, the same as teachers all over North America and beyond. Despite the fact that a gunman on a mission of evil was able to enter the school, the lockdown procedure was executed and school staff immediately moved into action. They locked down their classrooms. Those who couldn’t lock their doors hid their children in closets or bathrooms. According to reports, the gunman had enough ammunition to cause countless deaths. Many lives were saved that day because procedures were followed. They say practice makes perfect. And I agree. When you are in a terrifying situation, it’s important that you know what to do automatically.
The media coverage has been highly complimentary of the way the staff at Sandy Lake handled the situation. And I agree with everything they are saying: that the staff was admirable and heroic and amazing. But it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think society as a whole realizes how much teachers actually care for their students. When I get my class at the beginning of the year, I become their De facto mother for the time they are in school. Yes, I teach them new math skills and help them with their reading and writing, but I also get them Kleenex when they have a runny nose. I am the one who is called when they throw up in the cafeteria. I hug them when they are crying about a fight they just had with their best friend. I ask them why they aren’t eating their lunch or why they don’t have a lunch at all. I know when their cat has died and when a raccoon ate all of the bird eggs out of the nest under their porch. My heart breaks for them when they don’t make the hockey team or when they screw up at their piano recital. Our class laughs together and learns together and fights and argues, just like a family. We have inside jokes and traditions that only our class does. And trust me…I’m not unique. My colleagues do the same thing everyday in schools across the country.
So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary sacrificed their lives for their students or put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect them. Because when you’re a teacher, these children become your children, whether they are 5 or 15. When they are in my room, they are my babies. I know that you trust me to care for them and keep them safe. And I know I won’t be perfect, every day, in every situation. But it takes a village to raise a child. And just like in the lockdown drill, we’re all in this together.
Twenty-six lanterns are seen in the village near the Sandy Hook Elementary School following a shooting that left 26 people dead, 20 of them young children, in Newtown, Connecticut.