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Brave Teachers and Heavy Hearts

Today, America's schools reopen after a weekend of mourning, crying, and quiet disbelief of the horrific shooting of our youngest students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. We will remember how precious life is, we will hug our children and our students, and we will remember those educators who gave their lives protecting their students without any regard to their own lives. We will honor the teachers who acted calmly and bravely in securing their students, and we will re-examine the safety of every school to limit the possibility of this horror occurring again. Our hearts will be heavy, and our resolve will be unshakable.

All teachers will have the task of balancing an opportunity for students to reflect and process this tragedy with a return to normalcy and routine. Children will need assurances that they are safe. Teachers must be attentive to the disparate responses of their students and recognize that some may need counseling and some may need just a hug or listening ear. Today is a day to focus on our humanity.

While much attention will be focused on our students, let us not forget the impact of this tragedy on teachers, education support professionals, and administrators as well as our parents. Hugs will be welcomed. Checking on colleagues who may be more emotionally fragile would be smart. Having a place for staff to reflect and try to make sense of this evil act will be appreciated.

Today will be a time for community and political leaders to thank teachers for their unheralded bravery. A visit to the school to show support would be appropriate. Providing special treats for the teachers' lounge with a note of appreciation would be welcomed. The stress that teachers have been under all year is compounded when students and their colleagues are harmed. It is a time to re-examine how teachers in this country have been minimized for the contributions they make, and it is a time to re-commit to honor and respect and reward America's teachers.

Today, elected officials at every level of government must get serious about gun control and mental health services. There is so much to be done to minimize this happening in another community. There is so much to be learned from other countries that experience very little school violence and gun crime. Mental illness is no longer a closeted disease. Cutbacks in services are negligent on the part of politicians. The public must demand immediate action on both these fronts.

When I was executive director of the National Education Association, I was always appreciative of the NEA Health Information Network that developed a crisis guide to assist schools in getting through school violence, suicides, or disasters. Under the leadership of Jerry Newberry, a former school counselor, NEA HIN responded swiftly and smartly to any school in need. Their work was used internationally. This is a time when school personnel need to read that guide and reprepare ourselves to do these things that could avoid a future occurrence of violence as well as save lives if this should happen in our schools. Our unions have school safety at the top of their priorities. They are a wonderful resource.

Today is a sad day, and we will get through it, but we will not forget those children and school personnel. They are in our hearts forever.

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