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Heroism in Sandy Hook

Heroism in Sandy Hook

What it means to be a teacher


Every morning we drop our children off at school hoping their teachers will connect to them, educate them and inspire them. We do not expect them to save their lives.

I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face as the names are released of the six- and seven-year-olds, along with their teachers, who were brutally gunned down in their own school.

The terror is unimaginable. The grief unbearable.

The terror is unimaginable. The grief unbearable

But I refuse to let the pain paralyze me. I refuse to let the horror be what I take from this. I can’t. I won’t. I need to focus on the heroism. The inherent goodness within each and every one of those teachers. Their focus, their love, their passion, their dedication, their sacrifice.

There is a famous quote that teachers teach more by who they are than by what they teach. Teaching is not a job that begins at 9:00 AM and ends at 4:00. Being a teacher does not come with breaks. Being a teacher is not what you do, but who you are.

Sandy Hook had real teachers.

As the reports pour in, it is clear that in the midst of insanity, these men and women created a haven of calm, safety and love. We learned the devastating news that the school’s beloved principal was murdered as she lunged towards the gunman, hoping to stop him. There was the teacher who kept telling her students she loved them in case it was the last thing they heard, and the teacher who was shot and killed after hiding her students and telling the gunman that her kids were in the gym. Their acts of bravery and heroism are remarkable.

These teachers knew their lives were in danger. They must have been absolutely terrified. But they didn’t show it. They didn’t break. They didn’t make a run for it hoping to save themselves. They put their fear on hold and did whatever they needed to do to provide these children with the environment they needed. And undoubtedly, their actions and their heroism will help the healing process tremendously for these children.

There was the teacher who kept telling her students she loved them in case it was the last thing they heard

The staff at Sandy Hook taught me what it means to live a dedicated life. What it means to truly be an educator. And we are all educators. In different ways, in different relationships; everyone teaches in some aspect of his or her life. The question is, when we teach, are we giving over material, facts, and ideas, or are we giving over ourselves? Are we engaging with the one who is learning from us? Do we care about that individual? Do we focus on his or her unique needs? Are we truly dedicated?

I don’t want to focus on how these educators lost their lives, but on how they lived them. I want to think of their smiles and encouraging words when I am stuck in a rut. I want to be motivated by their long hours and focus when I feel burned out. And I want to make sure that my children know that I would do anything, absolutely anything, to keep them safe like the Sandy Hook teachers did for their students. Nothing can be done to bring back the lives that were tragically taken from us. But I can, I must, try to live a more inspired life, a more dedicated life, in their memory.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (27)
December 15, 2013
More tradgedies
Since Sandy Hook, the USA has suffered more gun shootings in schools. It will go on just as long as the USA culture glorifies guns.
Take the guns away - NOW!!!!

(And let the police do the job of keeping law and order?)
December 14, 2013
A beautiful essay as meaningful one year after the tragedy as the day it was written.
December 23, 2012
Great Teachers....
I too, taught in a district in NY for many years. I am so shaken by what occured and often thought...what if this happened here. I would have done just what those brave and dedicated staff and teachers did...thank you Sara, again, for a moving and truthful piece...may we all remember and honor them for who they were and what they did.
Dorothy Bienen
December 18, 2012
what TO DO (from teenage girl)
I think that this aritcle shows us how much every single one of us makes such a tremendous difference in the world, so be aware of this as you go about your mundane life. To the teachers out there: my teachers are the ones i think of when i think of who my role model is. we want all children to grow up as frum, self-respecting people wit most0importantly ahavas yisroel. so if you are a teacher, every single thing you do/wear/say/insinuate is caught and remembered by your students so PLEASE show us the right things! we can only be there for every one around us in their time of need. Keep in mind, that although most people in the world are normal and can talk, not everyone is open with their feelings, so be aware of those around you if they may need a listening ear or physical help, whatever it may be. just be there! (these are just words from the heart)
December 18, 2012
Richii, I can understand your tears, but the "stupid idiot" was also a child. What kind of despairation and ignorance of G_d's love brings a young intelligent man to the such madness? Why did his mother have 3 guns in the house including an automatic rifle? Why did he kill her first? Where was/is his father? His acts were abominable but his soul was in agony beyond words. Communication in words is best, we tell each other how we feel and hopefully we are consoled but the mentally ill cannot speak, they scream out their story in actions and sometimes die in the process. This tradgedy must be looked at with a "wide angle lense" to find the causes not to apportion blame but to prevent reoccurance.
December 17, 2012
First, I need to say how beautiful this essay is. It has a certain tranquility I found soothing to my soul in this time of upheavel. Secondly, I want to say, Thank You.
Pennsylvania, USA
December 17, 2012
The teachers have gone beyond duty and exhibited bravery - but more than that - they physically demonstrated love - love for their children - the students they taught - and love for the school, representing educational pursuits - the growth of minds - challenged and supported by these magnificent souls. I moved my art exhibition from Chelsea NYC to Newtown last April - in hopes my mother would see it, living in Newtown - but she died in March at age 100 and in mourning her passing this year - as nine months into the year progressed, grief multipled beyond any imagined idea - we will never forget and always honor those little children, so innocent, and their brave principal & teachers. Noah & Jack today - and we will reflect and pray.
Ival Kovner
Bethel, Ct
December 17, 2012
Julie, and general
The way Julie states the statistics is not the entire story. A better way would be to state murder rates, specifically those in which a gun was the weapon used. The USA has many more people than the countries in the comparison, and including murders where the victim was strangled, or drowned, etc. makes no sense when discussing gun control. Even so, I'll concede the point that the USA has a higher percentage of gun crime than many other countries, and this is in part because guns are so available. I'm all for removing the ability of non-military, non-law enforcement citizens to have access to automatic or semi automatic weapons, armor piercing ammo, large clips etc. Sadly, the NRA is organized, and we who are against them are not. Sara, thanks for writing this, I'll quote Anon in Melbourne Thank you for finding something meaningful and positive to say without sounding callous or insensitive. I only add that you don't sound trite either.
Sarah Masha
December 17, 2012
The same day as this shooting 20 children were stabbed to death at a school in China. This man was mentally ill. He would of found other ways to do harm. Lets get better psychological help for these boys and men who feel like outsiders.
December 17, 2012
Sorry this tragety is not about guns.
Guns have taken and protected lives since there inception. The guns of tyrants in the last century, in the hands of facist and marxist have led to the death of ruffly 100 million people worldwide. Today the gun in the hands of law abiding citizens protect against criminals and a governement that would take property, liberty and life itself. Guns can only be banned from good honest law abiding citizens, not from thugs and tyrants. A gun carring madman, in a gun free zone, 26 dead. Were the madman confronted by one gun carring adult perhaps the outcome would have been different?