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When Tragedy Strikes At Our Heart

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I have truly struggled with what to say in this week’s message.  What do you say when there are no words adequate to express what you are seeing, feeling?  As a teacher, my heart aches for my colleagues who had to endure such terror and were lost.  As a mother, my heart breaks for the young lives lost, and in such a violent manner, and for their parents, left with so many questions and such pain.  What do we say to people who have been through so much, other than we are here, we experience your pain, and we want to support you in any way that we possibly can.

Five NNSTOY representatives were sitting in a Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Voice meeting when iPhones began buzzing with frequent news headlines to the point that some of us actually looked to see what was happening.  And then sat in disbelief at the numbers that were being reported, trying to process news that was simply not believable.

For the rest of the weekend and into this week, I refused to turn on my television set, but have read constantly the news updates as so many people struggle to process this tragic waste of life. Reading about teachers with courage beyond imagining, enormous lengths gone to in trying to protect their students, of the bravery of students themselves, and simply trying to make some form of sense of any of this.  It colors everything.

Reading those news articles, I have seen everything from the ridiculous to the intensely moving; reporters who have handled the human suffering in Newtown and beyond with sensitivity, and some crassly.  In each case, the people of Newtown have responded with dignity, with grace.  There have been articles chronicling the debates around gun control, levels of gun control; the care and treatment of our mentally disabled and mentally ill; and a thoughtful and insightful article regarding the most common profile of the most recent spate of mass murderers:  male, white, middle class – and certainly with some level of mental, emotional, or behavioral disturbance, questioning why we are seeing this particular profile.  We all process differently; my form of processing is to voraciously read every point of view that I can find, and this article raised many questions for me.  I’m providing a link to it here:  http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/19/living/men-guns-violence/index.html?iref=allsearch

As a teacher, my school moved to a locked-door policy while I was still there; we practiced what to do in an emergency situation often.  I frequently struggled to define the ‘safest’ place to hide my students should a real situation arise.  Recently, I was in a middle school doing a site visit for a study when we suddenly went into lockdown; it lasted for over an hour, in which time, helicopters landed on the front lawn, police and military officers moved through the building, and the students sat silently in their seventh grade algebra class, with us beside them on the floor in the front of the room.  I thought of how ineffective this was; they were clearly visible from the windows for example.  I can remember wondering what we would have needed to do to keep them safer, given the structure  of the room.

Perhaps the few bright spots in all of this have been the many examples of simple ways in which people from across the country and around the world have tried to provide support for the people of Newtown and the friends and relatives of the victims.  I have been in touch with several of our Connecticut colleagues, and, to a person, they share that among the first people to reach out to them, were you, their STOY colleagues.  They have also shared how very much your support has meant.

Christopher Poulos (CT 2007) works about ten miles from Newtown.  He has described having a police presence in his school now, and an incident of a genuine lockdown Monday due to the sighting of a suspicious character near the school, shown to be an ordinary citizen carrying an umbrella in the end.  Kristen Record’s school has received threats of an impending violent incident on Friday.

Three of our STOYs, Tony Mullen (CT and NTOY 2009), Rebecca Mielwocki (CA and NTOY 2012),  and Dave Bosso (CT 2012) have written pieces, or responded to requests for interviews; finding my own words to be grossly inadequate, I would like to share some of theirs.

Tony says, in Ed Week:  "There's been a lot of teacher bashing over the last couple of years—we're not performing, we work short hours and days, we get paid too much," said Mullen, who worked as a police inspector in New York City before becoming a teacher. "It's unfortunate but sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to see what certain public servants are ready to do, ready to sacrifice. Prior to 9/11, there was a lot of criticism of the NYPD for a variety of issues. After 9/11, policemen and firemen were suddenly looked at as the heroes they were. I think something like that now could happen with teachers—they'll be looked at how they really are. They are heroes. They are martyrs."

Rebecca shares:  …the adults in the building went toward the shooter, not away from him. "No one ran from that gun. That principal, those teachers, and those aids tried to stop this man," she said. "We need to remember that the first responders were actually the teachers." (Also from Ed Week)

And, Dave Bosso wrote a piece that was published in the Hartford Courant.  A brief excerpt of David’s words:  “To so many, the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrate that the core values of education mirror the greatest ideals of humanity, and they are exemplars in this regard. They offer us hope, and reinforce our belief in the goodness of others and the power of education. In an era of accountability, standards, testing and data, they affirm that what ultimately matters most are the immeasurable lessons and the enduring relationships teachers cultivate with their students.”  Please find his full article at this link:  http://articles.courant.com/2012-12-17/news/hc-op-bosso-sandy-hook-teachers-inspiring-values-1-20121217_1_educators-teachers-supportive-colleagues

I would ask that you continue to reach out to our Connecticut colleagues.  There have been so many funds started that I hesitate to list a few here.  CNN has posted this article, listing numerous ways of helping the town of Newtown: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/15/us/iyw-help-for-victims-of-sandy-hook-shooting/index.html?iref=allsearch  In addition, Betty Ann LaPenna (CT 2000) has shared through Facebook, that as students from Sandy Hook move into their new school in a neighboring town, the CT PTSA has suggested the following to Betty Ann’s Superintendent:  He writes:  “We know that our town is looking for a way to support Sandy
Hook School and all of Newtown in this hour of need. Your local PTA/PTSAs met on Sunday with representatives from Connecticut PTSA with that goal in mind and this is the result:

“Let’s Give Sandy Hook School a Winter Wonderland”
Snowflake Drive – Like our children, no two snowflakes are alike. We invite you to create snowflakes to decorate Sandy Hook School’s new home. Be creative! All colors and designs are welcome. We know that children will enjoy creating art that can adorn the walls of SHS’s new elementary school. CT PTSA has been contacted from schools across the state and this is a project we can all share.”

A group of NJ teachers has taken a different approach:  they are each undertaking 26 acts of kindness, one for each student and teacher who lost their lives on Friday.  I personally love this idea and will emulate it.  Regardless of what you do, please reach out to your CT colleagues and offer your words of support.




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