What do you say at a time like this?

December 16, 2012

in rants and reflections

I’ve been debating on that very question all weekend. I haven’t touched the blog or any social media since the massacre at Sandy Hook. It feels disrespectful, somehow, to be writing about regular school-related stuff or sharing funny images on Facebook without having first having done something to acknowledge such a tragedy. I wish I could write something profound and inspiring about what happened, but everything I’ve thought to say sounds trite. My thoughts and prayers are with them. I join the families in mourning their loss. All true and heartfelt statements, but none of them really convey the depths of what I’m feeling.

As I read article after article about the events that unfolded on Friday, I’m most touched by the stories of the teachers and staff who protected their students at their own peril. I’m proud of how well they executed the lockdown procedures we have all practiced so many times, and the methods they used to calm and reassure their students. They did exactly what I think each of us hopes we would have had the presence of mind to do in that horrifying situation. Their professionalism, good judgment, and love for their students is profound.

There is no lesson plan for tragedy. What do you say at a time like this? Blog post with encouragement for all educators returning to school after Sandy Hook.

Three of the Sandy Hook Elementary staff members who lost their lives protecting their students, from left to right: Victoria Soto (1st grade teacher), Dawn Hochsprung (principal), and Mary Sherlach (psychologist).

I wonder if the general public is surprised by the response of those educators. Their heroic actions fly in the face of all the negative stereotypes that have been floating around about teachers–that we’re greedy, that we only teach for the short hours and summers off, that we’re lazy, that we don’t care about the kids we teach. I hope that the people who believed those messages will hear about Sandy Hook and realize that each of us walk into our classrooms in the morning determined to protect our students as if they were our own, from whatever dangers that come.

The teachers who gave their lives for their students on Friday leave a strong and proud legacy for us to uphold. They have made the ultimate sacrifice for their little ones, and they made me feel proud to be an educator. I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive to the children who died. I am grieving for the loss of those precious lives, as well. But it’s comforting to know that the adults in charge of them acted with such loving and wise responses. It’s the one bright spot in so much darkness.

I had planned to stay silent all weekend out of respect for the tragedy, but at the last minute, I decided I didn’t want to wait until Monday to post these words. Because tomorrow, we all have to return to our schools and reassure kids that life will go on for them. Tomorrow we have to focus on helping our students learn. Tomorrow we have to put on a cheerful face and resume the holiday preparations and school celebrations.

So I want to use today to encourage you as you prepare to face the coming week. As my friend Angela Maiers has said in her beautiful post, there is no lesson plan for tragedy–teachers, you KNOW what to do. When your students enter the classroom tomorrow, your instincts will kick in, you’ll read your students’ cues, and you will be there for your students in just the way they need you to be, just as you’ve always done. You’ll know what to say to the whole class (if anything), and how to comfort and reassure individual children who need to know they are still safe in your care.

I hope you will feel a little more pride tomorrow morning as you enter your school, knowing with more certainty the importance of your job beyond the data and assessment we get bogged down with on a daily basis.

I hope you will love on your students a little more, and experience an even deeper appreciation of how precious they are as individuals.

I hope that you will connect with and reassure your students’ parents, and they will look at you in a new light, realizing (maybe for the first time) the lengths that you would go to in order to protect each and every one of their kids.

I hope you will know that you, too, are a hero for your students, and that knowledge will give you the strength to continue giving your all, day after day after day.

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenny December 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes as I read this. Thank you for putting into words what I can’t seem to.

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2 Laura Candler December 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Angela,
You are such an inspiration to teachers everywhere. Your words touched me beyond measure. You so eloquently stated many of the things that I’ve been thinking today. I’m glad you did not wait until Monday to share this, and I’m planning to share this now with my Facebook fans. Your words of inspiration may help them face the day with their students tomorrow.

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3 Beverly December 17, 2012 at 10:20 am

Thanks for sharing on facebook. I too was touched by the message. As a retired kindergarten teacher I know the power and influence a teacher has in the classroom every day. Carry on….

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4 Kelly December 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm

This is beautiful. Thank you.

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5 Mary DeFrates December 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Thanks for your heartfelt words. You have given me the strength to enter my classroom tomorrow and deal with whatever comes. You are an inspiration to all of us!

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6 Lynda Thompson December 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Wow! Angela, what a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with so many of us who are wondering what tomorrow will bring. You have given me confidence to go in tomorrow and know… I will know!!

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7 debra December 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I echo the sentiment of the other folks who have posted. I teach a wonderful but difficult group of kids with special needs. I was going to practice with them on Monday (before all this tragedy) the steps for the lock down procedure. I don’t think I will be able to pull it off without crying, or at the least, tearing up. They range from kinder to 6th and I love each and every one for the gifts that make them so unique. It IS an emotional time and I can’t imagine any staff, teacher, or administrator who isn’t impacted by this. I pray for us all, especially those who have suffered the most. Thank you so much for your words, they gave form to the emotions we all feel. hugs

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8 Heather aka HoJo December 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Such a strong post! I am a bit apprehensive about school tomorrow, but I know the day will be ok. Thank you for posting today. It gave me the strength to make it through tomorrow!

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9 Beth J. December 16, 2012 at 8:00 pm

You put into words so many things I’ve been thinking this weekend. Thank you for this post.

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10 Barbara December 16, 2012 at 8:09 pm

This is beautifully written, Angela; thanks for your heartfelt encouragement!

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11 Tom December 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Really? You are really saying you walk into your classroom each morning prepared to take a bullet for children?

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12 Teresa Garrett December 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Tom,

I don’t think I knowingly walk into a classroom expecting a bullet, but as a mother, grandmother, and teacher I would protect all children left in my care to the best of my ability.

Just as I am sure if a small child was in your care instinct would kick in and you to would protect a him or her.

Teresa

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13 Angela Watson December 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Thanks, Teresa, that’s exactly what I meant.

I have been in many lockdown situations with students, including several in which an armed gunman was roaming the neighborhood and our classroom had a door that opened directly to the street (no indoor hallways or fences at the school). I was also a teacher in the Washington DC area ten years ago when the Beltway sniper was shooting people randomly in our area on a daily basis. We shielded our students up against the building as best as we could while walking them to their buses every afternoon, not knowing whether a crazy man with an assault rifle was hiding in the bushes. That went on for weeks in every school in the DC metro area.

Those are just a couple examples from the many, many times in which I and my colleagues have feared for our students’ lives. I know without a doubt we would have done whatever it took to protect them in each and every instance. The general public may not realize that, but among teachers, it’s not even a question.

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14 Tired of Idiots Like You December 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Yes, that’s exactly what she means, you asshat. Because those are the risks that come with our job whether ignorant ingrates like you care to recognize it or not.

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15 Lori December 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I agree Teresa. Yes, TOM, we do!

Every single time we have a lockdown drill, I’m imagining how I would protect my students and how many I could cover. I was in a school with a shooting in Houston in 1991 and it was scary. I promise you every single teacher had those kids covered the best we could.

I think it is instinct to protect our own, and I resent that condescending tone.
Lori

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16 Ummm, yes. December 16, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Do you not know any elementary school teachers well Tom? Most I know would do almost anything to protect ‘their kids’ i.e. their students. Teachers are a dedicated bunch who love other people’s kids like they are their own. I don’t think the public realizes what we do in our classrooms every day to keep our students safe, loved and protected – which is fair enough since they aren’t really there lol. But yes, most elementary school teachers I know would do the same, without question.

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17 Rachel R. December 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Thank you. I know it’s a simple gratitude but in those two words lies so much appreciation for your words. All weekend I have not known how to feel for those victims. I’ve felt sadness but saying “I’m sad” didn’t feel right. Your words are what I have felt and didn’t know how to put into words. When reading the articles, I felt PROUD to be a teacher and I felt an immense sense of love for my “kids”. I know without a doubt, that I would do the same for them. May God bless those families and their loved ones.

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18 Teachers are a special group of people! December 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thank you for putting what many educators are feeling into words. My heart goes out to all the students and families affected, I don’t think words can express this enough. I cannot imagine the grief and angry this town is feeling right now :(

In regards to educators, I’m so thankful to be part of a profession full of such caring people!!! Stories like this make me so proud as I know many elementary school educators who would do the same to protect their students. These teachers and education professionals died heroes in my eyes.

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19 Sally DeCost December 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Very well said, Angela! I think our most important job right now is to let the children feel loved and safe… as much as we can possibly do that! They’ll also be needing normalcy and their routine intact. In a way, I’m dreading going in, and in a way, I’m looking forward to seeing my students.

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20 Tracy December 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thank you for saying those things…Tomorrow will be tough!

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21 Jill December 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Beautiful. Thank you.

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22 Angela Watson December 16, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Thank you all for your kind words. I am touched to think that this post has encouraged so many people, especially since I don’t feel like I have anything to say about the topic that is worthy of what happened. I just wanted you all as teachers to feel like you are capable of meeting your students’ needs in this situation, and I wanted you all to trust yourselves. What those teachers did at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday was absolute proof for me that when push comes to shove, we will all step up and do whatever takes. I’m so proud of their actions, and I know that you all will respond with compassion and the utmost selflessness and professionalism with your students, too.

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23 Wynn Godbold December 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

You are so right on all levels. Teachers hold your heads high. Grab your kids tight. Be open and honest. And trust yourself- you will know.

I believe also that as the days continue to pass you’ll hear more and more about teachers who protected children and will eventually tell their stories. All around that school teachers did heroic things to save and protect little lives; hiding children reassuring them and refusing to open the door until they were sure that the “good guys” really were who they said they were.

Blessings to teachers nationwide as you go back tomorrow.
Wynn

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24 Angela December 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Thank you for this post. There are no words to express what we are all feeling at this moment as we anticipate tomorrow. Thank you for finding them for us.

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25 Deb Butler December 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Thank you for your words. I needed to read this before I walked back into my classroom tomorrow. You are an inspiration and I’m glad you didn’t keep quiet. God bless.

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26 Amy R. December 16, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I am normally an ace at writing and love the English language, but I find that I am stunned and speechless by the events from Friday morning. Student safety is always in the back of my mind each day. I will continue to pray for the victims and their families that have to be in utter pain after such a heinous and senseless act.

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27 Amy G December 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

This is exactly what I needed to read before tomorrow. You gave me the answers I was looking for, but couldn’t quite wrap my brain around. THANK You!

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28 Tom December 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Lots of people face risks with their jobs. Dont make yourself out to be a hero just because of your profession being tied to others who just faced a horrible event

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29 Wow December 16, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Tom,
You have obviously never walked a day in a teacher’s shoes. Please take your negativity and get off this page. Yes, lots of people face horrible risks everyday. Actually, I would say everybody does. You never know when something bad is going to happen, this could happen at McDonald’s, the bank, even walking down the street. Teachers love their children as their own. When asked how many kids I have, I usually reply “21″- two of my own and 19 at school. You do what you have to do in order to keep ALL kids safe. These teachers and staff members did that. They will forever be heroes because of it. Teachers were heroes before this happened and they will be heroes everyday after. We not only teach; we love, we nurture, we nurse, we listen, we play, we kid around, we praise, we hug and much, much more.

Angela,
Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it.

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30 Amy December 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Tom, you seriously don’t get it.

The point was not that our job has the potential to be dangerous. Most jobs have that potential, especially if we’re talking about something like a mass shooting. That can pretty much happen anywhere.

Many people are praising these women for responding the way that they did during Friday’s tragedy. They deserve to be called heros, however, what the general public doesn’t understand is that any elementary school teacher I know would have done the same. When I walk through the door of my school building, my own problems/issues/hardships are immediately checked out the door. My priority throughout my work day is always my students.

Most of us take our job as teachers quite seriously, we realize that our actions, words, and examples have the potential to greatly influence a child. During the week, I spend more waking hours with the children than many of their parents do. As a result, we care about them a great deal, and feel a responsibility to take care of them and keep them safe.

The general public seems to be amazed that a teacher was willing to save her children’s lives over her own. The general public applauds the teacher who took her students into the bathroom and tried to comfort and distract them. What the general public fails to realize, however, is that these women acted out of instinct. While people watched and read the news amazed, us teachers were nodding our head in agreement, feeling an instant bond because we could put ourselves in their shoes and we understood why they did what they did. It was never a question for them.

It’s a mama bear type instinct. We are not priding ourselves on this, we just understand it.

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31 Karl December 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Tom, there are words for people like you that I will not express on this page. For you to get on here and try to make these educators second guess themselves is cowardly. Are you upset that one like them paddled you for being a little turd in school? Is it because you have nothing better to do but set behind a computer and attempt to create doubt. Never mind the fact that people just like these folks are the very ones who taught you to wright and read so that your fortunate enough to get on here and say the things you have said. If you really feel that way, post it somewhere else. Its your right to feel how you want just like the protesters at a soldiers funeral. Although Its my right to think people like you and people like those protesters are morons.

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32 *Sigh* .... in every positive post that involves teachers, there must be a hater.... December 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm

To be frank, Tom – nobody here is making themselves out to be a hero (where do you even get this from?)

This being said and entirely separate from the shooting last week, I know many school teachers who are everyday heros in my eyes – you wouldn’t believe the things some do for their students on a daily basis, not just in times of crisis…it is above and beyond what most people do in their jobs to say the least, and this is coming from a former corporate perspective. What most here are saying is that they feel proud to be part of a profession full of the kind of people who would do the same out of love for their students. Sadly something tells me you don’t fall into this category as you really just seem unable to grasp this notion. Most are simply saying thank you to the author for giving us the words we needed to hear to do a difficult job today; or thank you to the educators who died for their students as it reflects how we all feel as elementary school teachers. Maybe it is just not something you can understand until you have been in the position, but that doesn’t mean you need to be rude about how people feel just because you don’t understand.

Thank you again to Angela, you made the dreadful talk with my students today a lot easier than it it would have been otherwise. Don’t let the haters get you down and please keep writing for us!

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33 Anndee December 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Very touching and expresses my sentiments exactly.

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34 Mandy December 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with all of us. I have wanted to write something as well, but just have not been able to find the words. I couldn’t be more proud to be an educator and although I know tomorrow won’t be easy, I can’t wait to see my students and remind them again how much I love and care for them.

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35 Kristy December 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Thank you! This was was beautifully written! !

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36 Cindy December 16, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Thank you Angela.

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37 Agnes December 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Thank you very much for that, it’s so touching and emotional.
May God remember the families of the slain.
And bless all the teachers across the world.

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38 Karl December 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Angela, I like how you distinctively said in one of your responses towards Tom, “a CRAZY man and his assault rifle”. I am a Deputy Sheriff in Kentucky and have spent time as a School Resource Officer. I am fully aware of what schools do to prepare for a possible gunman lurking down the street or in the parking lot. I AM prepared to give my life to save another. Especially an innocent child. It is very unfortunate and sickening what happened at Sandy Hook. But, your response, to me, seemed like you are stating the “crazy man” was to blame and not his rifle. That is exactly the way I believe. I’m in fear with this tragedy, our government will try to imply stricter gun laws. This is not what needs to happen. It will only create a problem the will be a force to be reconned with. Instead, if they really want to help, HomelandSecurity could supply a grant to place armed SRO’s in EVERY school in counties and towns. This would be far more productive and protective. Just my thought. Thank god we have teachers willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to protect a child. Thank you teachers from all over this nation for what you do. You guy like us officers, never hear that enough.

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39 Mark Morrow December 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

I completely agree with Angela Watson. It is an even GREATER TRAGEDY that some schools are instructing teachers NOT to talk about Sandy Hook Elementary!

Problems do not go away by pretending they do not exist. It is important for kids to have some age appropriate balance between the hardships of reality, and the magic of possibilities that offer children the power to influence change upon the world. It can be much more confusing & emotional for a child to learn about/be misinformed by strangers or other children. Keep the conversation simple, and allow them to ask questions. Focus more on solutions (discuss possibilities of how to keep safe in a crisis; both natural disaster or human), and show your children how to regain their power of dignity in the aftermath of a tragedy. Perhaps turn it into a project of LOVE. Help your children create cards/drawings/letters for those who have been most severely impacted by this horrible incident:

http://lite987.com/send-a-card-or-letter-to-sandy-hook-elementary-in-newtown/

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

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40 Tammi Pittaro December 17, 2012 at 5:23 am

Thank you, Angela, for your post. God bless us all today as we go back into the classroom with our kids.

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41 Sue Watson December 17, 2012 at 6:27 am

Thank you so much for saying how I feel today. I appreciate your writing and efforts on our behalf. God bless you,
Sue Watson

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42 to.m December 17, 2012 at 7:54 am

Making the blanket statement all teachers are heroes and would take a bullet,and other profesionals wouldnt is wrong. You are selfishly inserting yourself into this story. You are not a hero. But maybe one day you will be.just like countless other people in a variety of positions are

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43 John Ryan December 17, 2012 at 9:54 am

This article makes me sad because it is taking the heroism of these individuals and politicizing it. This has nothing to do with some districts striking and people being upset at the timing of it. It has nothing to do with the fact that in my county teachers on average make 20% more than anyone else in the county but are still demanding more even though we are broke. This has nothing to do with the fact that some people see bad teachers in their schools and they are frustrated that unions are backing them and helping them keep their jobs.
The heroism displayed has nothing to do with being a teacher, it has to do with being human. Heroes step forward during a tragedy and they would have been no less a hero if they were a librarian, a custodian, or a UPS devlivery man that happened to be onsite. What about the Dad that went and rushed kids out of the building, is he less of a hero because he doesn’t take that risk for children every day?

This is an attempt to politicize what happened and to pat your back when this tragedy had nothing to do with you. I am glad that you put your students first and I hope you are willing to step forward and help any of them but make sure you are doing this on a daily basis. Being a hero doesn’t just involve stepping in the way of a gunman. Protect kids from bullying, protect children from unfit parents, and educate your students so that can make something of their lives. A love of learning starts early, so get up every day and do a great job. At the age of 35, I can look back and my teachers and I can count less than 10 teachers that I could see truly cared about us as students. The majority of my family are teachers and I spend a lot of time in high schools and jr high schools and I see a lot of teachers that are greedy and lazy. Showing us examples of good teachers does not excuse the bad.

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44 Angela Watson December 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

Hi, John. You are so right in saying that we as teachers have to be willing to step forward and help our students on a daily basis, not just in times of emergency. The purpose of this article was to encourage teachers and give them the strength to be there for their students today. It was to inspire teachers and let them know how important their work is so that they can do all of the things you mention–protecting kids from bullies, from unfit parents, and educating them. Constantly hearing about how lazy teachers are and how many bad teachers are out there is discouraging to the vast majority of teachers who truly care, and it doesn’t accomplish anything productive to bring that up when teachers are here reading this article BECAUSE they care about their students and want to handle this tragedy in a kind and caring way. In order for teachers to “get up every day and do a great job”, they need to feel supported and empowered. That was the reason why I wrote this article, and I stand by it.

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45 JennyDeeDee December 17, 2012 at 9:57 am

Beautiful- thank you…. I will be sharing your message and thank you for crafting it so well.
Yours In Peace
♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡
♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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46 Beverly December 17, 2012 at 10:56 am

I’m sure many schools will be practicing lock-down procedures in response to this tragedy. As part of this practice, a code given quickly over the intercom gives the teachers and entire school, precious time to protect and secure the children in a “turtle tuck” position, and away from harm. The teachers at Sandy Hook did this instictively.

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47 TammyKelly December 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I am not someone who thinks teachers are greedy or spoiled because they have the summers off !I feel teachers have one of the hardest jobs out there. As a parent I was overwhelmed like everyone else at this tragedy but also overwhelmed at the thought of the teachers giving up there lives for there students! Even though there is so much sadness at all the losses there is comfort knowing that a teacher would do anything to protect her students!

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