The Hero Teachers of Newtown; Teachers Are First Responders
1. The Hero Teachers of Newtown - Diane Ravitch
2. Teachers Are First Responders - Deborah Dunton, Pittsburgh
The Hero Teachers of Newtown
by Diane Ravitch
December 17, 2012
Diane Ravitch's Blog
This much is clear: the teachers and staff at the Sandy Hook
Elementary School reacted with astonishing courage to the
unthinkable, the terrifying intrusion of a man intent on
murdering them and their students. With no thought of their
own safety, they defended their children..
Everyone of them is a hero, those who died and those who
Six of them died protecting the children.
We don't know the names of the survivors, but we know who made
the ultimate sacrifice. For their courage and selflessness,
they are heroes of American education.
The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and the school
psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 52, ran towards the intruder to
try to stop him. They both were killed.
The killer went in search of defenseless babies and teachers.
The teachers heard the gunfire, tried to hide their children,
hid them in closets and cabinets.
Vicki Soto, 27, put herself between the killer and her
children. He killed her. Somehow some of them escaped. Six ran
to a nearby house. They told the surprised homeowner,, "We
can't go back to our school. Our teacher is dead. We don't
have a teacher."
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, was a special education teacher who was
devoted to the children she taught. When her body was found,
little Dylan Hockley was in her arms.
Rachel D'Avino was a new teacher, who was getting her
doctorate in special education. She was a behavioral analyst.
Her boyfriend planned to ask her to marry him during the
Christmas holiday. Like the other teachers, she died shielding
Lauren Rousseau, 30, had joined the faculty in November. She
was thrilled. All her life, her mother later said, she wanted
to be a teacher.
Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was
doing exactly what she wanted to do. they've worked in a
school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs
of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their
students. They put their students first, even before their own
Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged
to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact
that "reformers" (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge
fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their
tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor
Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure
just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just "showing
Governor Dannell Malloy has led the effort in his state to
expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. He appointed a
state commissioner of education who co-founded a charter
chain. He said, memorably, that he didn't care how much test
prep there was so long as scores go up. Sandy Hook is not that
kind of school.
Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few
days about the role of public schools in their communities.
Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is
healing. Not competition, not division, but a community coming
together to help one another. Together. Not competing.
[About Diane Ravitch... http://dianeravitch.net/about/
"My website is dianeravitch.com. I am a historian of education
and Research Professor of Education at New York University. I
was born in Houston, Texas, attended the Houston public
schools from kindergarten through high school, and graduated
from Wellesley College in 1960. I received my Ph.D. in the
history of American education in 1975. I am the mother of two
sons. They went to private schools in New York City. I have
three grandsons: two went to religious schools and the third
goes to public school in New York City. I live in Brooklyn,
The first first responders: Teachers stand on the front lines every day
By Deborah Dunton
December 18, 2012
After the unspeakable horror that occurred in Newtown, Conn.,
a few days ago, we were reminded that the first first
responders at schools are the administrators,
paraprofessionals and teachers.
All at Sandy Hook Elementary School displayed courage. They
did their jobs.
The teachers acted instinctively to shield, hide and
ultimately to save most of their students, with the
heartbreaking exception of 20. The bravery, compassion and
love with which these teachers acted came from their hearts
and souls. It emanated also from their dedication and
commitment to the children and families with whom they live
every day for 182 days of the year. These children became
their kids, too.
Yet these same teachers are members of a profession that is
increasingly being attacked for what we don't do, for how much
money we make, for how powerful some of our unions have come
to be. After the dreadful tragedy in Newtown, it is time to
reestablish our faith in our nation's teachers.
We need to remind ourselves why teachers do what they do, how
they care for our children, how they are co-guarantors, along
with parents, of our future. Far beyond instruction, fidelity
to curriculum, Common Core State Standards and the like are
the daily challenges of teaching children who come to school
with a limitless supply of problems and struggles.
It is true that we teach because we want children to learn,
grow and succeed in this tough world. But there is so much
more that we do.
We dry tears.
We try to keep sleep-deprived students alert enough to keep
their heads off their desks.
We hug and hold students who have experienced a death in the
family, a drug overdose, the incarceration of a parent or
sibling, a shooting in the neighborhood, physical or sexual
abuse, the emotional trauma of their parents' separations and
We comfort students who are pregnant or seriously ill.
We purchase and distribute clothes (including socks and
underwear), books, food, even beds, so that our students will
have one less worry to distract them from learning.
We hand out stickers, trinkets, candies and treats.
We break up fights, mediate conflicts and mentor curious and
Frequently, we are the first to recognize signs of mental
Every day at school, we are the first first responders.
The press, public, legislators, government officials and those
ever-important tests often seem to reduce teaching to
standardized exams, using test data to drive instruction and
then judging teachers based on how their students performed on
one test on one day. It doesn't matter if students have a bad
morning, or were exhausted, or had a family crisis the night
before or couldn't read the test because of a learning
Add to the mix a never-ending deluge of student surveys of
teachers, often unreasonable demands from parents and
performance appraisals from subjective principals and other
administrators. This significantly hampers our ability to do
all the things we need to do to help our students focus on
learning. And, evidently, after all of that, we still fall
We absolutely do need to evaluate teachers' performance. The
task of finding an equitable, objective way to identify the
ineffective, tired teachers and escort them out of the system
is incredibly important. Identifying best practices and
instituting them in the schools needing assistance and support
is an urgent undertaking. Addressing racial achievement gaps
and their underlying causes, as well as equity issues in inner
city schools, districts and communities across this land is
But at its core, teaching still has to be about the
relationships and connections we make with our students. That
is the pathway to tolerance, respect, achievement and
I don't know one teacher at Sandy Creek Elementary School in
Newtown, but I would bet my bottom dollar that they are the
kind of teachers with whom I have taught for most of my nearly
30 years in the field. Their love for and commitment to their
students' safety and well-being brought a response that was
swift, wise and loving when their students were endangered.
They were the first first responders.
A few weeks back, one of my favorite students invited me to
lunch and paid for it with some Pizza Hut coupons she had
earned from reading books. As we sat together in my classroom,
munching pizza and sipping water, she looked at me and said
that this was the best day of her life and that she loved me.
I would be her first first responder in a heartbeat.
[Deborah Dunton is a special education teacher at Pittsburgh
Greenfield K-8 and lives in Highland Park.]
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