That it takes a special person to be a teacher was never more evident than during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, whose brave staff sacrificed their lives for the children who looked to them for protection.
Every day, in less horrific situations, teachers in systems such as Philadelphia's also learn what it means to be confronted by senseless violence. Often it makes them question their choice of profession. Good teachers, though, stay committed. They keep coming back to the classroom.
How much harder will that be for the peers of the six staff members at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school who were killed in the gunfire that left 20 first graders dead? Sandy Hook will be closed indefinitely, perhaps forever, but what happened in its halls will live forever in the minds of the mayhem's survivors.
They will remember their principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, who reportedly was shot while lunging at Adam Lanza in a desperate attempt to seize the 20-year-old gunman's weapon. Killed alongside Hochsprung was school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56.
Behavioral specialist Rachel D'Avino, 29, was trying to shield one of her students when she was shot. Also killed in the gunfire were teachers Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, 30; and Victoria Soto, 27. "She put those children first," a frend of Soto's said. "That's all she ever talked about. She wanted to do her best for them."
Teachers today aren't commended enough for their devotion to students. More attention is placed on their shortcomings, which must be addressed to be remedied. But in discussing what teachers are doing wrong, or what they should be doing better, there should be room also to talk about their dedication.
It shouldn't take a mass murder to remind us that children's lives are placed in the hands of teachers every day, and that the ability of those teachers to protect students goes far beyond any security device or procedure installed at a school. In the end, it's a matter of taking responsibility.
The teachers at Sandy Hook passed that test; not just the teachers who died in the tragedy, but those who survived - the teachers who barricaded classroom doors; the teachers who found paper so hiding students could color while trying to ignore gunshots; the teachers who bravely escorted little children holding hands with their eyes closed, as they scooted to safety.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, appreciation should be shown not only to the teachers who proved their dedication there, but to all teachers who refuse to let any obstacle or intrusion dampen their commitment.