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40 Hour Workweek

Uncategorized   |   Dec 16, 2012

What do you say at a time like this?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

What do you say at a time like this?

By Angela Watson

I’ve been debating on that very question all weekend. I haven’t touched the blog or any social media since the massacre at Sandy Hook. It feels disrespectful, somehow, to be writing about regular school-related stuff or sharing funny images on Facebook without having first having done something to acknowledge such a tragedy. I wish I could write something profound and inspiring about what happened, but everything I’ve thought to say sounds trite. My thoughts and prayers are with them. I join the families in mourning their loss. All true and heartfelt statements, but none of them really convey the depths of what I’m feeling.

As I read article after article about the events that unfolded on Friday, I’m most touched by the stories of the teachers and staff who protected their students at their own peril. I’m proud of how well they executed the lockdown procedures we have all practiced so many times, and the methods they used to calm and reassure their students. They did exactly what I think each of us hopes we would have had the presence of mind to do in that horrifying situation. Their professionalism, good judgment, and love for their students is profound.

Three of the Sandy Hook Elementary staff members who lost their lives protecting their students, from left to right: Victoria Soto (1st grade teacher), Dawn Hochsprung (principal), and Mary Sherlach (psychologist).

I wonder if the general public is surprised by the response of those educators. Their heroic actions fly in the face of all the negative stereotypes that have been floating around about teachers–that we’re greedy, that we only teach for the short hours and summers off, that we’re lazy, that we don’t care about the kids we teach. I hope that the people who believed those messages will hear about Sandy Hook and realize that each of us walk into our classrooms in the morning determined to protect our students as if they were our own, from whatever dangers that come.

The teachers who gave their lives for their students on Friday leave a strong and proud legacy for us to uphold. They have made the ultimate sacrifice for their little ones, and they made me feel proud to be an educator. I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive to the children who died. I am grieving for the loss of those precious lives, as well. But it’s comforting to know that the adults in charge of them acted with such loving and wise responses. It’s the one bright spot in so much darkness.

I had planned to stay silent all weekend out of respect for the tragedy, but at the last minute, I decided I didn’t want to wait until Monday to post these words. Because tomorrow, we all have to return to our schools and reassure kids that life will go on for them. Tomorrow we have to focus on helping our students learn. Tomorrow we have to put on a cheerful face and resume the holiday preparations and school celebrations.

So I want to use today to encourage you as you prepare to face the coming week. As my friend Angela Maiers has said in her beautiful post, there is no lesson plan for tragedy–teachers, you KNOW what to do. When your students enter the classroom tomorrow, your instincts will kick in, you’ll read your students’ cues, and you will be there for your students in just the way they need you to be, just as you’ve always done. You’ll know what to say to the whole class (if anything), and how to comfort and reassure individual children who need to know they are still safe in your care.

I hope you will feel a little more pride tomorrow morning as you enter your school, knowing with more certainty the importance of your job beyond the data and assessment we get bogged down with on a daily basis.

I hope you will love on your students a little more, and experience an even deeper appreciation of how precious they are as individuals.

I hope that you will connect with and reassure your students’ parents, and they will look at you in a new light, realizing (maybe for the first time) the lengths that you would go to in order to protect each and every one of their kids.

I hope you will know that you, too, are a hero for your students, and that knowledge will give you the strength to continue giving your all, day after day after day.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I echo the sentiment of the other folks who have posted. I teach a wonderful but difficult group of kids with special needs. I was going to practice with them on Monday (before all this tragedy) the steps for the lock down procedure. I don’t think I will be able to pull it off without crying, or at the least, tearing up. They range from kinder to 6th and I love each and every one for the gifts that make them so unique. It IS an emotional time and I can’t imagine any staff, teacher, or administrator who isn’t impacted by this. I pray for us all, especially those who have suffered the most. Thank you so much for your words, they gave form to the emotions we all feel. hugs

    1. Tom,

      I don’t think I knowingly walk into a classroom expecting a bullet, but as a mother, grandmother, and teacher I would protect all children left in my care to the best of my ability.

      Just as I am sure if a small child was in your care instinct would kick in and you to would protect a him or her.


      1. Thanks, Teresa, that’s exactly what I meant.

        I have been in many lockdown situations with students, including several in which an armed gunman was roaming the neighborhood and our classroom had a door that opened directly to the street (no indoor hallways or fences at the school). I was also a teacher in the Washington DC area ten years ago when the Beltway sniper was shooting people randomly in our area on a daily basis. We shielded our students up against the building as best as we could while walking them to their buses every afternoon, not knowing whether a crazy man with an assault rifle was hiding in the bushes. That went on for weeks in every school in the DC metro area.

        Those are just a couple examples from the many, many times in which I and my colleagues have feared for our students’ lives. I know without a doubt we would have done whatever it took to protect them in each and every instance. The general public may not realize that, but among teachers, it’s not even a question.

    2. Yes, that’s exactly what she means, you asshat. Because those are the risks that come with our job whether ignorant ingrates like you care to recognize it or not.

      1. I agree Teresa. Yes, TOM, we do!

        Every single time we have a lockdown drill, I’m imagining how I would protect my students and how many I could cover. I was in a school with a shooting in Houston in 1991 and it was scary. I promise you every single teacher had those kids covered the best we could.

        I think it is instinct to protect our own, and I resent that condescending tone.

    3. Do you not know any elementary school teachers well Tom? Most I know would do almost anything to protect ‘their kids’ i.e. their students. Teachers are a dedicated bunch who love other people’s kids like they are their own. I don’t think the public realizes what we do in our classrooms every day to keep our students safe, loved and protected – which is fair enough since they aren’t really there lol. But yes, most elementary school teachers I know would do the same, without question.

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