Educators live — and sometimes die — to help children


We watched in horror as the violent attack on the elementary school in Connecticut unfolded. Even though we were hundreds of miles away from Newtown, even though we did not personally know the victims, we grieved for their loss.

We knew the pain and suffering that would linger in the minds and hearts of families and friends over the loss of 20 children and six adults who fell victim to the shooter’s rage.

The 12 girls and eight boys, ages 6 or 7, came to school last Friday feeling safe and loved. The school was their second home, and the staff their second set of parents. Suddenly, in the comfort of their elementary school classrooms, their trust was shattered and their lives were taken.

We listened intently as news media reported the heroic behavior of teachers and administrators who instinctively put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the hundreds of young children in their care. We heard how the principal and one of her staff rushed the shooter in a bold attempt to thwart his carnage, and perished.

A mother described how her 6-year-old son miraculously ran past the shooter and escaped from the building, while his young teacher shielded the class and was murdered for her bravery.

A surviving teacher, assuming she and her children were about to die, tearfully described how she whispered to her students how much she loved them. She was determined that the last words they heard would be words of love.

The staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the community of Newtown face a long journey to move beyond this horrendous tragedy. The surviving children may be resilient enough to overcome their grief, but the faculty perhaps will need more time.

Yet as educators usually do, they will come back and perform remarkably well — not because we expect them to, but rather because their children will be waiting for their return.

Periodically, I have the chance to visit a Toledo public school and watch teaching and learning firsthand. I see caring teachers professionally guiding their students to master a learning objective. I also observe, on occasion, a teacher assuming the role of mother or father.

Such an instinct is inherent in the profession. Our colleges and universities do a good job of preparing teachers to be proficient in subject matter and pedagogy. But assuming the role of mother or father for someone else’s children cannot be taught. Teachers are born with it.

At my church service on Sunday, two days after the tragedy, the minister spoke of the horror in Newtown. A boy in the pew in front of me, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, buried his face in his arms as his mother tenderly patted his back. At the end of the sermon, he lifted his head and wiped a tear from his cheek.

Like that child, I was struggling with the why of this tragic event. A reading during the sermon, from St. Paul to the Philippians, rendered profound advice: “Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds ...”

Jerome Pecko is superintendent of Toledo Public Schools.