What I Can’t (and Can) Understand: A Teacher’s Reflection

It’s 11:22. So far this weekend I’ve easily spent five hours on school stuff – by the standard of most weekends, a light load.

Perhaps I have a light load, but a heavy heart.

Lunchtime on Friday was when I heard about Sandy Hook. We teachers talked about the events at the table and taught our afternoon classes, still somewhat numb. We walked all of the students outside at the end of the day. I know it choked me up to see all of the parents hugging their children extra tight.

All weekend, I’ve been trying to comprehend it. I can’t. I can’t imagine the terror of those ten minutes. I can’t fully understand the turmoil those families are enduring. I cannot fathom how the Sandy Hook School community could possibly get through its first day back when it is time. I can’t understand any of it.

Well, let me correct that. Because I’ll tell you what I can understand. I can understand the determination with which those teachers tried to protect their kids. Because my kids? They’re MY kids. Yes, every bright and smiling face I see in the hallway, each eager learner who walks in my door is officially a lovey of mine. And as I’ve often said: once a lovey, always a lovey. My students are my children forever. Just ask the twenty-somethings I still keep in touch with. I want to know how their lives are, what they’re doing, whether or not they are safe and happy. Because they matter to me as much as my own children do. I hope some of my former students are reading this blog, and that they hear from me how incredibly important each one of them has been in my life.


I have nine different preps for tomorrow, some of which I’ve planned more than others. But I still can’t shake the feeling that right now, in light of the last few days, so much of that really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how good my spelling packets look. It doesn’t matter how well I’ve organized the sample graphs for the math lesson, whether or not I’ve put smiley stickers on the kids’ homework, or whether or not I have all of my copies ready.

What matters to me is what has always mattered to me:

Every child in my care is worthy of respect, of dignity, of love. Every child needs to learn, to laugh, to play, to work through frustrations, to make mistakes, to fail sometimes. Every child needs an environment that is safe physically and emotionally. Every child in my care deserves to know that learning is important, but being a decent human being is paramount.

And I have always been – and still am – willing to do anything to make that happen.

Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

73 thoughts on “What I Can’t (and Can) Understand: A Teacher’s Reflection

  1. Beautifully expressed.
    As I read and write the posts on sites around the world, they all reflect the same ultimate sentiment……the profound sadness and loss of this horrific tragedy……..and…….along with this, the powerful innate instinct of “we” teachers to love and protect “our” children unconditionally.

  2. I am not sure how we comprehend such mind numbing violence. The first reaction is to blame the gun manufacturers for allowing automatic weapons, but in truth killing was not invented with firearms. IF someone is deranged or mentally ill they will find a weapon to accomplish their goals. I thank God every day in my prayers for the day I have, which is called the “present” for a reason.

    Thank you for being willing to teach our children and prepare them for the life they will lead as an adult.

  3. Reading your blog this morning, and I totally understand. I’m retiring from 25 yrs as a State Trooper in less than 3 weeks, my wife is a retired teacher and we have our own children too!

    I am a School Resource Officer and those are my kids. I’m glad I’m there just in case, cause it can happen here! But I’m not at my own kids school and in fact they don’t have a SRO at their school.

    I wonder how many kids would have been killed if the Principal had been trained, not just to confront the attacker, which got her killed, but if she would have been trained how to use a firearm to protect those kids! Or at least an SRO could have been there!

    The tragedy could have been averted and for us who love these kids we are handcuffed from protecting them correctly!

  4. I taught for thirty years in California’s public schools starting with 5th grade in 1975 and ending with high school in 2005. The first recorded school shooting in America was in 1853 in Louisville, Kentucky.

    The list I found through Google of school shootings in the US had 139 incidents on it starting with the one in 1853. The last one on the list was Sandy Hook. I also saw a few I remember from my years of teaching that led to discussions in class.

    Each time a school shooting took place while I was teaching, the district I taught in would ramp up the security and implement lock down drills until we left our classroom doors locked all the time with the doors closed unless students were going in and out of the room.

    The total lock down policy went into effect after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings that kills 14 and wounded 27. One time, we had a bomb in an unused locker. At lunch, a student saw the door to this locker with a broken lock open with what looked like something inside. Curious, he swing the door open and reached inside losing his hand when the bomb went off.

    The high school was evacuated to the football stadium where we stayed for hours as news and police choppers appeared in the sky and hovered. Firemen and police filled the campus while parents gathered outside one of the campus gates where a table was set up for parents to check in and then the school used the PA system in the stadium to call students by name to report to the gate to go home with parents. It was a long afternoon.

    According to the U.S. Department of Education in the 1998-99 school year, alone, 3,523 students were expelled for bringing a firearm to school. At the high school where I taught, we had our own six man campus police force but the officers were not allowed to carry firearms and one day one of the officers was in pursuit of a student when the student stopped, turned around with a smile on his face and pointed pistol at the unarmed officer, who stopped turned around and walked away from the student. I heard the police arrested the student later and he was expelled which usually means he ends up at another high school in another district.

    From my classroom doorway during my high school teaching years, I saw drive by shootings and one night when I was working late with the journalism class, one gang gunned down the member of another gang with a shotgun outside of my classroom situated near one of the back gates to the campus. The editors of the school paper, all girls, heard the shot and hurried to the door to see what it was but I stopped them and told them to get under the desks and wait for the police to arrive. That room was a portable classroom without windows and flimsy walls.

    And even with all of that violence, the US is only listed fourth among countries for murders by firearm. First, second and third place go to countries that have much tougher gun ownership laws and have much smaller populations: South Africa, Columbia and Thailand beat the US for deaths from firearms. The tougher laws do not stop the killing because one laws restrict people, many resort to buying guns illegally.

  5. This is . . . well it’s beautiful. The way you obviously care for your kids is great; the teachers in this school were so brave too. It’s really sad, what a waste. People like that deserve to go to heaven.

  6. Oh my goodness! I wrote a blog entry last night about teachers just like you. And about how all of us as parents owe it to you to recognize you more than we already do (monetarily and otherwise). Thank you for putting this out there. It’s so nice to hear a teacher who cares and has set aside the cynicism.

    1. After 17+ years of teaching, I do wrestle with cynicism from time to time, but it is my students and the joy of learning that pull me through. Some days are easier than others…

  7. God has a reason why these tragedies happen. It may not be clear now but I know when we are ready, it would all make sense. I may not be related to the little angels whose lives were taken at Sandy Hook but I am a guidance counselor and I have grown to care for the students who passes by my care.. it would really break my heart if something happens to them.

    I believe that teachers have one of the most important roles in the world. They are the second parents of each child that goes under their wing. Being a teacher sometimes mean having a 24 hour job because you never stop caring and hoping the best for the young minds you teach. As a teacher, your influence can sometimes make or break an individual. You may be raising the next hero or the next villain. So kudos to you! Your post is beautifully written 🙂 Jess bless!

      1. God did not pull that trigger. a mortal did and inside each of us lives God and the devil. God also gave each of us the power to make choices to do evil or good.

        However, we may know God from the Bible, and when God caused the flood to kill off most of the life on the earth, that also included children. I also recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and turned one woman into a statue of salute because she looked over her shoulder. Do you think there were children in that city?

        After the flood, the only survivors were floating on the Arc.

        The there was Adam and Eve. For eating an apple, God took away their immortality and tossed them out of the Garden of Eden to suffer.

        And what about that time God told Abraham to murder one of his sons as a way to test Abraham’s loyalty?

        And, aside from rumors and claims, there is no proof that God intervenes in some or all of the evil horrors that happen on this earth.

        Fore example, when the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and fire bombed Tokyo and cities in Germany during World War II, why didn’t He intervene to save all the innocent children that were incinerated?

        In addition, the WHO says about 3,000 children die each day of starvation and malnutrition just in India. If God intervenes in the suffering of children, then where is He each day?

  8. What you say is beautiful, every kid in every part of the world under any circumstance should be protected by adults. They deserve our sacrifice, our commitment, our love and most of the times they just end up suffering- or even worse as in this case- for our selfishness and madness.

  9. This is such a great post! I love that you’re so motivated to make a good environment for your students, and that you understand what is important about being a teacher. My teachers always inspired me, and impacted my life 🙂

  10. You sound like the kind of teacher I would want my sons to have. I am not in the US but as a parent I somehow still feel reassured reading your note. Thank you.

    1. Thank YOU. I am glad to tell you there are many of my colleagues who feel the same way. I am grateful to have them.

  11. My husband is a teacher. I worry about him all the time. More so than my daughter, even, because I believe that adults would try to protect her. And I believe that my husband, like you, would be one of the teachers who do whatever it takes to protect the kids in their classrooms. And I love him for it.

  12. Thank you. You capture a our sentiments precisely. Today I told my students how much I cared for them. One of my roughest told me, sincerely, he’d take a bullet to protect me. When I said that I would do the same, his response was “I know you would. Anybody in this building would. That’s why I love all of you here.” It made everything I do worth it.

  13. “Yes, every bright and smiling face I see in the hallway, each eager learner who walks in my door is officially a lovey of mine.” – not with the intent to offend – but i sincerely hope that the “sullen” faces and those that were less eager to learn received just as much of your love as those you described. After all those are the kids that need it even more.

    1. Emilio, I agree that some of those sullen faces are the most important ones to find. The kids low on resilience, on confidence, on empathy, on social skills, you name it- offering them ways to both look inside and reach beyond themselves is critical.

  14. Thank you, dear teacher. I will soon graduate with my masters in writing from Hopkins, and I plan to teach. I’m very excited about it, and can only imagine the bonds you can form with your students. So grateful to my wonderful teachers over the years, and to you for your loving heart. My you have many happy years of teaching ahead of you.
    congrats on being Freshly Pressed

  15. So true. I spent all weekend trying NOT to think about what happened and how it would be like fish in a barrel in my open space school. And even knowing how hopeless it would be, I wouldn’t be able to do anything other than try to protect my munchkins.
    Keep on keeping on. Your soapbox is appreciated.

  16. Love your post. I am a teacher too and I totally agree with you that teachers care about the children we teach. We watch them grow, see them in their best and worst moments. I feel sorry for the victims’ families. I simply can’t imagine the situation they are in. My deepest sympathy goes out to them.

    1. I know what you mean. For me, it hurts too much to dwell there for too long. The feelings of loss are so intense.

  17. I love this post. That every child need to have some fun in learning what’s important and allow them to fail sometimes is just what i believe would be the best for their futures. Their happy futures. Every child deserves a loving and supportive environment.

  18. Thank you for talking the words that are in my heart and posting them. I have been reflecting and pondering, as I do preps, greeted kids on bus yesterday, worked through the day and prepare for this day—it is sinking in that we truly are on the front lines, working and doing our job–but without the full support of the officials that make the decisions about our work. It is wonderful to know that across our nation, educators are bonded in what we do.

    1. And thank you to you as well. I can’t wrap my brain around being “front lines” but I do guess that’s true. Strange, but true.

  19. I was a teacher, too, and I’m thankful for all those who, like you and others we’ve all been introduced to in light of last week’s tragedy, have not burned out and don’t phone it in. Teachers who genuinely care for their students, because unfortunately there are plenty who do not. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this…

    I know it’s awkward to receive praise on being FP in light of the subject matter, please know your efforts are appreciated- in and out of the classroom.

    1. Thanks so much. I’m also lucky to have colleagues who not only help me maintain my idealism, but would be willing to tell me if I’m starting to sound burnt out. I would totally pack it up if that happened. Maybe that’s the subject for another blog post…

      I also agree on the FP comment; it feels weird to have this be the subject that puts my writing out there. I guess that goes with the whole idea of everything for a reason.

    1. Ah, yes. And I taught through Columbine, and student taught through the Oklahoma City bombing as well. I wish we could ever learn.

  20. Standing on my own soapbox, on tippy tippy toes and applauding – HORRRAAAAHHHHHH! I feel the same way about all the kids I teach, although it’s through as an afterschool and enrichment program – not full time in the classroom, like you guys – Can’t imagine how much more ya’ll have to do than me, those are all my kids. Period. Wonderful amazing post. Thank you

    1. Aw thanks. And in my mind, your work is just as valuable. I know that some of the connections my kids have made with their after school teachers have been incredibly rich and important. So keep on being awesome!

  21. Thanks for sharing this! I also wrote a blog post about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and included websites with live updates. If anyone wants to check the post out it can be found here: http://rebeccabartley.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/in-todays-news-newtown-connecticut-usa-elementary-school-shooting/

    My condolences to the family and friends of both those who died and those who survived and are left scarred. Truly a tragedy.

    Everyone feel free to check out my blog! All follows, likes, comments, and views are all appreciated!

  22. Please go to my blog and find strength and comfort for your concerns in its postings. I have been, in my lifetime, a teacher, law enforcer, therapist, soldier, amongst many things (ok, so I’m a little older than most).

    What has always shone true through the thick and the thin is this:

    We will not know what strength and courage we will have until we face the day.

    Thank God you have decided to do just that and may God continue to bless all of our teachers who continue to choose, to stand.

  23. I just wrote a blog about public education reform and what could be done better. Now none of that matters, at the end of the day if teachers do not share your belief that students are first, then numbers and studies mean nothing. You obviously demonstrate how much you care about your students which will go far in how you teach a student and how much the student gets from you.

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