I know there has been a lot of talk about the horrible shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I don’t want to bring up another discussion on gun control, school safety, our nation’s mental health issues, or even comment once again on the overwhelming tragedy. Instead I would like to say something that will, hopefully, uplift us in a time of mourning.
I was deeply touched by the story of first grade teacher, Victoria Soto. The story is, upon hearing gunshots she moved quickly to save her students by hiding them in the cabinets and closets of her classroom. When the gunman entered she claimed all her students were in the gym. He shot her and then moved on. It is amazing to know all of her students survived, while she died. She lieterally took the bullet for them. I feel awe at her sacrifice.
I think teachers are an amazing breed. Unfortunately, not every teacher has the emotional and mental stamina to qualify for their position, but we have all had one teacher who has saved us in some way.
I had a very rough patch in Jr. High. Two of my grandparents died, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and was very sick with chemo, things got really weird between my friends and I, (this may sound dumb, but it was a big deal to me then) and my boyfriend and I broke up. I felt like my entire life had been pulled out from underneath me and I was suddenly trying to survive in a deep hole.
I hated going to school. To me it became a mere survival strategy to get through the long day. Being at home and feeling the all-encompassing sadness of my mother’s illness was not much better. And since Church consisted of all the same crowd as school, that did not help much either.
There were three major influences in my life that kept me from being buried alive. Ironically enough, one was my principal, another my art teacher, and another my all-in-one teacher. The principal was also my mother, so she was not at school very often, but when she was in her office desperately trying to take care of her school’s needs I felt better pushing through the day. The art teacher was my older sister Marissa. She was the definition of awesomeness all my growing-up years and even if I felt like all the kids in my class thought I was weird, I knew they had to think I was awesome for being related to the art teacher.
The last teacher, Ms. Trudeau, taught us every other subject and even braved a Tale of Two Cities with us. (It has become one of my all time favorites.) She assigned us to memorize the first paragraph of that book, and while everyone else in the class hated it, I proudly felt like a genius. I still quote it at the dinner table to this day. She also assigned us to learn how to knit, just in case we would need to make any burial shrouds en masse.
But it wasn’t because of her unconventional assignments that she pulled me through this difficult time. It was because I could tell she cared about me. That she knew her role went beyond merely teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Her role was to help me know someone cared, who didn’t even have the obligation through blood. She invited me to her small studio apartment for sleep-overs, she took me out for pizza with all her cool older friends, she brought me to her boyfriend’s glass blowing studio, and when we rode in the car together we would each stick an arm out the window and flap together in rhythm to make the car fly. I still remember the small Snoopy valentine she gave me at our class party, it said “You’re fun to hang out with.”
I realize now that a young, single, and hip twenty-something-year-old probably didn’t desperately wait until Monday morning so she could see one of her struggling students again. But that is what I did. School became more about the teacher than it did the friends. And I loved having lunch at her desk with her instead of going to the lunch room with all the other kids. She sacrificed a lot for me, and I am amazed she could handle hanging out with one hormonal and frequently crying thirteen-year-old girl as much as she did.
I will be honest, I do not have the infinite patience and limitless love it takes to be a teacher. But I am grateful for the wonderful people in this world who do. I am grateful for the April Trudeaus and the Victoria Sotos who save their students one way or another. It is a job no amount of money could ever pay off. (And we all know teachers don’t get paid near enough already).
It takes a savior’s heart to be a teacher. And in the wake of this horrible tragedy I would like to thank Victoria Soto for paying the ultimate price to save her students, I would like to thank April Trudeau for saving me, and I would like to thank every teacher who loves and gives in a way that has a life-long impact on those they teach.
In many ways you are the unsung heroes of our country. But I hope today you will accept my little song of praise. And know that you give your students another reason to sing as they walk home from school.