As accounts of the horrors at Sandy Hook Elementary School have poured out of Newtown, Conn., we have heard many times over of the quiet heroism of teacher Kaitlin Roig. Barricaded in a bathroom with her first grade class, Roig told the children that she loved them.
If it was the last thing the boys and girls ever heard, she hoped it would at least be her words, kind, loving.
These were not Roig’s own children. She did not give birth to them or adopt them.
But she did for them what their parents could not on Friday morning; she protected them from the evil that exists in this world.
Shortly after she did this, after she and dozens of her co-workers protected the lives of hundreds of children in Newtown from one of the worst school shootings in American history, I sat in my house watching the news and willing myself to remain in my chair. I told myself not to grab my car keys and rush to the elementary school where my daughter was doing whatever second grade things were being done on Friday morning in classrooms safe from the cruelty of the world.
She is safe, I told myself. I don’t want to alarm her. She is safe.
She was safe. I was, I am, blessed, something that hit home for millions of parents who hugged their children that much tighter on Friday evening.
I am blessed to have my daughter, safe and sound.
And I am lucky too, to live in a country where there are people who chose to spend every day with our children, molding young minds, yes, but also drying tears and administering hugs.
Many professionals, in the face of a gunman armed to the teeth, would be under no pressure to remain on the job. No pizza delivery, no convenience store cash register, is worth giving up your life.
But those teachers in Newtown, they stayed. They stayed when they could have run because theirs isn’t a job of doling out greasy cheese covered dough or selling giant cups of frozen sugar-laden drinks.
They stayed because they have chosen to care for kids, for OUR kids.
They stayed because they are teachers.
It’s a game, almost, among parents, to one up one another with complaints of what is going wrong in their lives. It changes by child’s age, from diaper blowouts to teething traumas, until one day it’s all about the teachers.
Are there bad teachers out there? Certainly. Just as there are bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad cable guys, bad writers, bad bankers …
But after three years with a child in public school, I can also attest that there are wonderful teachers too, teachers who care, teachers who will pull you aside to tell you not to allow your daughter to change because, yes, they really do get and appreciate your child’s quirky personality. There are teachers who write letters home admitting that they don’t believe in giving homework as busy work, who explain why they assign what they do and ensure that you feel that your own night time with your child is valued.
There are teachers who investigate when your child is being bullied and get to the bottom of it. There are teachers who make your child burst out of bed, excited to go to school.
There are teachers who help you build the patch that closes up the spot ripped open on your heart that first morning of kindergarten.
And then there are the teachers who huddle in bathrooms, whispering sweet nothings to someone else’s babies while a gunman threatens to steal them away forever.
As we, the parents who live outside of Newtown, count our blessings this week and try to send our collective strength to the parents of Sandy Hook, it would behoove us all to thank our children’s teachers.
Because when we can not be there for our children, they will be.
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Image via Phil Roeder/Flickr