Last December, a mere few towns away from my little suburban home in Connecticut, the lives of many families were changed forever. A very disturbed young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, and violently gunned down 20 first graders and 6 women who were working in the school. This unusually tragedy struck even closer to home once I learned that one of the teachers at my high school lost his beautiful daughter Ana Grace Marquez-Greene.
Losing a child is an event no parent should have to experience, and it is even more difficult when the loss is so unnecessarily violent and untimely. Ana’s wonderful family has taken to respecting and remembering their little girl by promoting messages of courage, faith, and love. Their strength and courage is exemplified perfectly in a letter Ana’s mother, Nelba wrote to teachers beginning the new 2013 school year.
In her letter Nelba wrote, ” As a new school year begins and old routines settle back into place, I wanted to share my story in honor of the teachers everywhere who care for our children.
I lost my 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace on Dec. 14, 2012, in the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My son, who was in the building and heard the shooting, survived.
While waiting in the firehouse that day to hear the official news that our daughter was dead, my husband and I made promises to ourselves, to each other, and to our son. We promised to face the future with courage, faith, and love.
As teachers and school employees begin this new year, my wish for you is that same courage, faith, and love.
It takes guts to be a teacher. Six brave women gave their lives trying to protect their students at Sandy Hook. Other teachers were forced to run from the building, stepping over the bodies of their friends and colleagues, and they came right back to work.
When I asked my son’s teacher why she returned, she responded, ‘Because they are my kids. And they need me now more than ever.’ She sent daily updates on my son’s progress, from his behavior to what he’d eaten for lunch. And four months later, when my son finally smiled one day after school, I asked him about it. His response? ‘Mom. My teacher is so funny. I had an epic day.’
While I pray you will never find yourself in the position of the teachers at Sandy Hook, your courage will support students like my son, who have lived through traumas no child should have to.
Your courage will support students who are left out and overlooked, like the isolated young man who killed my daughter. At some point he was a young, impressionable student, often sitting alone at school. You will have kids facing long odds for whom your smile, your encouraging word, and your willingness to go the extra mile will provide comfort and security they need to try again tomorrow.
When you Google ‘hero’, there should be a picture of a principal, a school lunch worker, a custodian, a reading specialist, a teacher, or a bus monitor. Real heroes don’t wear capes. They work in America’s schools.
Being courageous requires faith. It took faith to go back to work at Sandy Hook after the shooting. Nobody had the answers or knew what would come tomorrow, but they just kept going. Every opportunity you have to create welcoming environments in our schools where parents and students feel connected counts.
Have faith that your hard work is having a profound impact on your students. Of the 15,000 personal letters I received after the shooting, only one stays at my bedside. It’s from my high school English teacher, Robert Buckley.
But you can’t be courageous or step out on faith without having a deep love for what you do.
Parents are sending their precious children to you this fall. Some will come fully prepared, and others will not. They will come fed and with empty bellies. They will come from intact homes and fractured ones. Love them all.
When my son returned to school in January, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Imagine the difficulty in sending your surviving child into a classroom when you lost your baby in a school shooting. We sent him because we didn’t want him to be afraid.
We sent him because we wanted him to understand that while our lives would never be the same, our lives needed to move forward.
According to the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly half of America’s children will have suffered at least one childhood trauma before the age of 18. They need your love.
A few weeks before the shooting, Ana Grace and I shared a special morning. Lunches were packed and clothes were picked out the night before, so we had extra time to snuggle. And while I lay in bed with my beautiful caramel princess, she sensed that I was distracted an asked, ‘What’s the matter, Mom?’ I remember saying to her, ‘Nothing, baby. It’s just work.’ She looked at me for a very long time with a thoughtful stare, then she told me, ‘Don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry, Mom.’
As you begin this school year, remember Ana Grace. Walk with courage, with faith, and with love. And don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry.”
With the new school year just beginning and many fresh students, as well as teachers, face daily challenges and obstacles, I want to share these kind words. Being someone who favors teaching elementary-aged students, as well as someone who has personally seen the devastation that a community can struggle through, I want to share thoughts of hope and honor. Teachers are the people who work to create the most caring, supportive, and nurturing environments possible for their students, despite setbacks such as school closings, tragedies, and dysfunctional home lives. Teachers are the people who are excited to see their budding students blossom into graceful flowers over the course of the school year, even if it does mean waking up at sometimes difficult hours fully equipped with an unreasonable amount of coffee. Although many people have had to struggle through a school year or two with what seemed like an impossibly difficult teacher, the fact still remains the same that those teachers have helped you and countless other students become stronger, smarter, and deeper human beings and those teachers wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
Best of luck to all new and returning teacher, students, parents, faculty, and volunteers who are essential to helping our schools continue to be communities of growth. I am personally sending my courage, faith, and love to each and every one of you.
- A Message To Teachers This Fall: Love Them All (sydneywilsonteaches.wordpress.com)