Sandy Hook: Reflections From A Teacher

Image courtesy of Susan Von Stuensee


I had a piece going about the school shooting in Connecticut reflecting on the need for greater focus on mental health issues and family support, considering many perpetrators of such shootings are either dealing with a personality disorder/mental illness, or with the fallout of growing up in a home with major family dysfunction/absent parent(s). Yet I could not get further than the second paragraph. It all seems hollow and disrespectful, like having a fist fight at a funeral. It’s just not appropriate and it detracts from the bright shining lives of those little ones who were taken far too soon. This is not the time; others can argue over the how, the why, the “get rid of all guns” vs. “give everybody guns” mentalities. I just can’t go there.

As a teacher, my heart is broken. On Friday, we experienced a massive virus outbreak on our computer system, which means we weren’t connected to the “outside world.” As lunch rolled around some teachers were checking messages on their cell phones and word of the attack started trickling in. When I heard “school shooting,” I initially thought of Columbine. When I heard “at least twenty dead,” I thought of Virginia Tech. Then I heard, “elementary school” and it was a punch to the gut. Of course, all shootings are horrific, but I work in an elementary school, so these “little cherubs” as a fellow teacher calls them are close to my heart. As a preschool teacher I spend my days with sixteen incredibly sweet, silly, adorable four and five-year-olds. Ours is a primary school, with kids from Pre-K through 2nd Grade–our whole world is made up of kids around the age of those gunned down.

Photo courtesy of Navy Hale Keiki School

Naturally, we said nothing to our students and went on with our work throughout the afternoon. As my class was running around on the playground, going down the slides, chasing each other through the grass, my eyes scanned all of their faces, my ears heard their giggles and shrieks, yet at the same time my mind swirled with thoughts. Our school was built in the days of communal learning–many rooms do not have doors, so locking out intruders would not be an option. I thought to myself, what would I do if someone came onto the playground or into my classroom? Of course I would throw myself in front of as many children as I could, trying to shield them. So would every single other teacher in our building–not to mention our amazing principal who would no doubt rush any attacker the way the principal in Connecticut reportedly did. There is an old adage that nobody goes into teaching for the money. It’s quoted so often it has become trite, yet the sentiment is true. We teach because we love children, period.   We would absolutely do anything in order to protect the young lives with which we have been entrusted.

Photo courtesy of Stephanski

After school, I ran into a friend who teaches kindergarten in our building. As our kids were playing out of earshot, we talked about the attack. Both of us mothers, we found we shared the same gut-wrenching realization. Without a doubt, we would do whatever was necessary to protect our students. At the same time, we understood that doing so would leave our own children motherless. The thought of children growing up without their mothers is unbearable, but it would be unconscionable–impossible–not to make every effort to save the lives of our students. This is why my heart breaks for the entire Sandy Hook community; children have been left motherless and mothers have lost their children.

Thursday night, while waiting for my son’s basketball practice to get over, I heard a couple of mothers talking about the waiting game we often play. We wait for our babies to learn to walk. We wait for the day they finally sleep through the night, the day they can feed themselves, dress themselves and–hooray!–go to the bathroom by themselves. As they grow we wait for them to learn to drive so we can spend less time running them around. As these moms noted, we often mentally fast-forward through our children’s childhoods instead of just enjoying each stage as it comes. As parents, we must remember that nothing is promised to us. We never know how long we will be able to hold our children’s hands and look into their eyes. So whether our kids are five or fifteen, we must hug them, squeeze them, praise them and tell them we love them, and we must do it every day.