By Miriam Longobardi
Gone is the innocence with which most of us used to go about our daily lives, secure in the routines of going to work or school. Nobody used to leave for work imagining that someone might intentionally fly a plane into their office building or that when your children leave for school you will kiss them good-bye for the last time. Sadly violence has become too common in the least likely of places–schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and the list goes on.
As an elementary school teacher the tragedy in Sandy Hook struck close to home for me. They were a group of staff and children going about their day when the unimaginable happened. Although I now teach fourth grade, I taught kindergarten and first grade for 19 years, the ages of most of the children that died.
Envisioning the terror those people endured, children and adults alike, either in their final moments or those who survived, is still a mental image I cannot lose.
As teachers we spend several hours each day with our students, and in the primary grades those children need a lot of TLC that goes beyond the curriculum. In the midst of chaos and panic, all of those teachers, administrators and staff maintained a presence of mind to calm the children, as well as to guard, comfort and protect them. Whether or not they had children of their own, those teachers and staff members stepped into a parental-type role and, when there was nothing more to be physically done to keep them safe, they surrounded those children with love.
Although their actions were heroic and in many instances life-saving, heroism was not the motivating force. Protecting the children is instinctive. The bond between teachers and students during the course of a school year is what makes many of us in the profession feel that teaching is a calling. Those little faces turning earnestly to you throughout each day with their joys, hurts, giggles and injustices makes teaching much more than simply a job. Yes, there is the rigorous curriculum to teach but school is very much about the interpersonal relationships that develop between students and teachers as much as academic instruction.
School communities are like a giant family. Even students not in my class are familiar to me and I feel a lasting connection with my former students when I see them. The Sandy Hook staff that will now move forward with determination, courage and professionalism when a large part of their “family” is forever missing is also heroic.
Miriam Longobardi is a freelance writer, fourth grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester. A breast cancer survivor, she also volunteers for the American Cancer Society and has completed four marathons. Also, check out her weekly New York Modern Love column at Examiner.com.
An Outpouring of Community Support
Now, in the wake of the tragedy, people from around the world are reaching out to that grieving community with an outpouring of love and support. Our sense of community toward Newtown extends beyond the county, state or country boundaries as we connect with them as parents, educators, and people from all walks of life, all trying to extend a healing gesture of some sort. There is a warehouse full of items that have been donated and volunteers are needed to help sort, organize and distribute these items.
Additionally there are many free counseling organizations that need monetary support. If you would like to get involved and volunteer or donate, below are websites to point you in the right direction. Meanwhile, let us hope that gun control laws will be changed and tragedies of this magnitude can be prevented.
Organizations accepting donations: