We don’t know how many lives were saved by the alert and brave actions of the faculty and staff at Sandy Hook, but we suspect they were many. Yet how many among us should stand ashamed today for showing so little respect for such public employees — mocking teachers, in particular, for their cost to taxpayers in salary and benefits — and failing to appreciate how willingly many educators stand prepared to lay down their lives for our children?
Rarely are teachers given the kind of respect afforded soldiers, firefighters or police officers, but how else to describe Principal Dawn Hochsprung but as a first responder? We now know that it was she, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond who first confronted the heavily armed Adam Lanza in the hallway. Only Ms. Hammond survived that initial effort to subdue the intruder.
Four other employees, all teachers, died in the shooting. Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher, was killed attempting to literally shield her students with her own body.
Meanwhile, stories continue to emerge from Sandy Hook of teachers who helped lead their students to safety, who hid them away and remained level-headed despite the threat, who calmly instructed them to be brave, who stood ready to defend them until they were certain the knocking on their locked doors came from police and not the perpetrator.
That the shooter had to smash his way into the school and not simply enter an unlocked door was due to the security precautions instituted in recent years by the late principal. The school had practiced a “lock-down” drill before the fateful day. Ultimately, Ms. Hochsprung helped provide both the first and last line of defense for her students.
How many among us are certain we would behave so bravely in a similar situation? The military train for that kind of sacrifice, but the faculty and staff of Sandy Hook had no such preparation. What code of conduct informed their choices?
It is common these days to bemoan the state of public education and question whether the next generation will be able to compete in the global economy. Among the concerns are wide disparities in educational outcomes based on wealth, race and class; high dropout rates; and low science and math achievement compared to other industrial countries. Meanwhile, the economic downturn and the strain it has put on the financing of government, including public education, have made educators easy targets for scorn.
Not all teachers are saints, any more than all police officers, corporate executives or newspaper editorialists are. But what happened in Newtown — and what continues to happen in schools across America as faculty comfort and care for students unnerved by the events in Connecticut — ought to be a wake-up call to America.
Last August, it was a guidance counselor named Jesse Wasmer who was chiefly credited with wrestling a shotgun away from a Perry Hall High School 15-year-old who had taken it to school and seriously injured a fellow student. Somehow, he also chose to put himself in harm’s way in order to protect the lives of the innocent youngsters around him.
Next time we discuss the state of education, let us recall those images of teachers leading children out of harm’s way in Newtown or those adults who died in the line of duty. Public educators deserve our respect, not just for what happened in Sandy Hook but for their extraordinary, daily devotion to the education, health and welfare of the next generation.