That’s what Baker – now a senior in college – said to me as he ran into our kitchen one day after school when he was in fifth grade.
He was pulling me out of a three-day television-aided trance I had been in since the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Oh, I got up each day, got each child off to school, did most of the work I was supposed to be doing, but then rushed back to CNN to watch again and again what had happened, to try, again and again, to make sense of what this meant our world – my family’s world – would now be.
I’m doing the same thing again. Since yesterday. Since Sandy Hook Elementary School locked down and we redefined tragedy. Again. I’m listening intently to all the reports, reading closely all the articles, looking for anything that makes this make sense. But of course nothing will because one can’t apply logic to what was done illogically; one can’t apply reason to what was done without reason.
And I keep remembering Baker’s fifth-grade language arts teacher who each day after the 9/11 attacks didn’t sit home staring at a screen, but instead walked into her classroom to help twenty-two youngsters through the day. On Thursday of that week, she sent her students home reminding them to study because “spelling still counts.” I loved her for giving those students (and me) that nudge toward normalcy. All of the teachers in that school – in schools across this nation – during those first long weeks after 9/11 gave our nation’s children something far more important than what could ever be bubbled in on a state-mandated test. They gave them security; they gave them time; they gave them ways to process all that had happened; and they helped them learn that each of us has the ability to get through tragic moments even when we doubt we will ever get over them.
That’s what you’ll do again. On Monday. And on Tuesday. And on all the rest of the days next week and the rest of this school year. Parents will hold on to children – of all ages – tighter, and you will, with firm resolve, assure them you are a professional who knows what to do when tragedy strikes. Some children will cry and you will dry tears. Some will lash out in anger and you will know that is fear rearing its head another way. You will worry and fret and wonder what else you should do. You will talk with other teachers and principals – who will be doing all the same things you are doing – and together you will decide what is the right plan for your school as you help your students through what will, for some, be terribly difficult days.
Yes, on Monday and for all the days that follow, you will prepare lessons, watch for that student who doesn’t quite grasp the point, encourage the student who hesitantly offers an idea, help the shy one make a friend, remind the bossy one to listen more. And you’ll do what no university class ever prepared you to do: you will show students that when tragedy strikes, hope lives and goodness can always be found. You will help students recognize that their grief shows their humanity. You will show them that we all go on, in spite of fear, or perhaps more importantly, to spite fear. And you will, as you nudge them toward normalcy, even remind them that spelling still counts. You will be in our nation’s classrooms, teaching our nation’s children, and for this we are a grateful nation.
Thank you. Thank you. And, again, thank you.