Saturday, December 15, 2012

We teach in schools, not fortresses

As the mother of three and a teacher for over two decades I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the devastating acts that occurred yesterday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT.  I know if you are a reader of my blog you are equally disturbed because the people that follow my blog value education and more importantly they value children.

As a mother I must put my faith in the schools I send my boys to.  I have to believe and trust that their teachers and school administrators are doing everything they possibly can to keep my boys safe while in their care.  To the very core of my heart I believe this.  If I did not trust for their safety I would not be able to kiss them goodbye every morning before heading off to school myself.

As teachers we are trained to remain calm and cool in the case of a crisis.  The students will always take their cues from us, so if there is a crisis we must remain calm so they also remain calm.  We go through the motions during our emergency drills and we take those drills very seriously.  We also expect and teach our students to take those drills seriously, because God forbid if there ever comes a time when it is not a drill, we need to be prepared and so do they.

The problem is that all the emergency plans and lock down drills in the world can just never prepare you for an event like what happened yesterday.

How could you ever prepare yourself to interrupt your teaching at a moment's notice, knowing that it wasn't a drill, but the real deal (because you know you teach in the safest place in the world and nothing bad would ever happen in <insert the name of your community here> and try to fathom what is going on outside your classroom as you lock the door and attempt to take cover with nearly 30 students, where no cover really exists?

How would you ever prepare yourself for the possibility that the last people you might ever see or speak to are the students that a minute ago may have been driving you crazy with their incessant talking, or maybe you were sharing an inside joke, that only that class would understand, or maybe you were just doing what you do every single day, trying to educate your students to the best of your ability? How would you prepare yourself for that?

How would you ever prepare yourself to know the right words to whisper to comfort and assure those students that you spend every weekday with, that things will be Ok and they will survive this when in fact you have no idea what you are even trying to survive?

I don't think you could ever adequately prepare yourself for an event like what happened yesterday.  We all hope and pray and believe this could never happen to us.  Because if we didn't believe we were safe, how would we get in our cars and drive ourselves to school every day?  How could we send our children off to the bus stop every morning if we didn't believe they were going to a safe place where the people caring for them would protect them?

We try do everything humanly possible to minimize the risk and assure the safety of our students, but the bottom line is that we teach in schools, not fortresses.  Secure entrances and even armed security guards are no match for an intruder armed with assault rifles and a death wish.

This senseless tragedy will now cause every school district in our nation to examine their school safety and crisis response plans.  We will wonder if we are doing enough.  Are our entrances secure? (They were at Sandy Hook and it did not matter).  We never address the real issue of how broken our world is.  We are no longer assured safety anywhere; not at the movie theatre, not shopping for Christmas presents at the mall, not at school.

We unfortunately are not able to prevent these events from happening.  We need to make sure we are trained to respond in the best way to minimize the risks and lives lost.  The staff at Sandy Hook obviously were trained well and did everything possible to try and protect their students, some even giving their lives in the process.

As educators we make a choice to spend our days with children because we have a passion and love for teaching.  We do everything in our power to make school a safe place for our students.

We will go back to school this coming Monday with heavy hearts and thoughts and prayers for the lost lives and the stolen potential in those lives, for the loss of innocence in the children that survived, and the sense of security that was taken from the Newton community and from our own selves.

We will ask ourselves many questions that even if we had the answers to them, we still would not feel satisfied.  We will do whatever we can to assure our own students that school is in fact a safe place, well as safe as any place in our broken world can be.

As with any tragedy like this, stories will emerge in the coming days of heroism, acts of kindness, of people coming together as a community to heal their broken hearts.  That's what gives us hope.  That's why we teach, because we have to believe that we are educating the very beings that will fix this broken world.  We go to school every single day knowing that we can make a difference in the lives of the students we work with, and we hope and pray every single day that we can keep them safe.  And like the teachers at Sandy Hook, most of us would give our very lives to protect the lives of the students we teach.  We are educators, it's just what we do.


  1. Hi Sherrie:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. The closing made me cry...

    Don't know if you have heard about Farley's plan for tomorrow's Day of Silence.

    For more information, you can go to:

    Bloggy hugs to you...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  2. Schools full of vulnerable children and signs announcing "this is a gun free zone" are sitting targets. Our local (suburban) schools have "resource officers" - who are armed. I keep hearing how quickly the police responded - and good for them. But how long did it take to shoot nearly thirty people?

    At any rate, something I got from a friend -

    If you would like to mail sympathy cards, postcards or letters of support and solidarity to the school, the school address appears to be:

    Sandy Hook Elementary School
    12 Dickenson Drive
    Sandy Hook, CT 06482

    Please copy/paste/share widely. Sending a card is something small but at least it's something we can do. Pass it on

  3. I know that we do not know each other personally, I came across your blog in searching for new ideas for my classroom, but I wanted to tell you how well written this post is! It is clear that you have a passionate and caring heart--which is something that is so desperately missing in our society today. I am going to have my 6th graders make cards for the students and staff of Sandy Hook.

    Thank you and God Bless,


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