There are days when our job as a teacher causes us to go far beyond our call of duty. For myself that day was December 14th, 2012. A day that will forever be etched in my mind as a defining moment.
That morning I awoke ready to tackle the day. It was Friday and the weekend lay in front of me. As I hurried to leave I looked out over Long Island Sound as the sun began rising peacefully. Something stopped me in my tracks, and I put down my keys, my bags, my lunch, I grabbed my phone, and I went over to the slider, pausing in awe of the sunrise. I snapped a few pictures of that gorgeous sight, noticing how beautiful it was, even on a cold December day. I was filled with a sense of calm and happiness. Even more eager to start the day, I rushed out the door.
Not even 3hours later, my sense of, peace, calm and happiness was forever changed. As my students and I sat in morning meeting greeting one another, as we do every day, a noise I will never forget came to the forefront. Loud, rapid fire shots, over and over and over. As my classroom is the first class in the building I knew immediately that what I was hearing was a semi-automatic weapon shattering large glass panes bringing terror, pain, sadness, and immeasurable loss to a school full of light and love.
Our school endured a tragedy beyond comprehension. 26 lives were taken far too soon, senselessly and brutally. In the midst of such unimaginable loss, loss that could have very well been the loss of my own life, I had to find meaning again. I could not continue to live the way I had, of thinking I had all of the answers, because now I knew that I did not. Something had shifted inside of me. From that day forward I had to look within, I had to reflect back and I had to look to the future. In life things happen to us, good, bad, and everything in between. It is not the moment that defines us, but in how we CHOOSE to react to the moment that defines us.
When I thought of my students, I knew we had to make a choice for ourselves. If after such terror and destruction we were going to choose love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and hope, then I needed to find a way to teach this to my students. But at this point, I still had a large question to answer, and that was: How?
We returned to our new school at the beginning of January. I was filled with mixed emotions. There was such a deep sense of loss. One of the most uplifting aspects of being back at school, was the outpouring of generosity and love from around the world. So much love came into our school and into my classroom in the form of letters, books, pencils, supplies, games, toys, happy meals, cupcakes, teddy bears, the list goes on and on…
I stepped back and I realized that while my students were beyond deserving of all of these special gifts, I needed to teach them a very important lesson. That in life when you get, you have to give. After all that is what makes our world a better place.
One day I brought a large box of recess toys in to share with them. I showed them all of the items in the box. They were so excited. Then I told them:
In life when someone does something nice for you, you have to do something nice for someone else, and that is what we are going to do! We are going to find a class and we are going to make them feel the way we do right now…Happy”
Their eyes widened with excitement and their hands started to raise. They were so excited, ” Who are we going to help?” “How are we going to help them?” They asked. They were equally, if not more excited, at the thought of helping someone else, as they were for the gifts they had just personally received.
My question of HOW to teach them to care about others had been answered!
I was reminded on that day that children are able to understand the importance of helping others, of giving, and of making a difference, even after such a tragic situation. Giving, in fact, always makes us feel better. It is a far better gift to give then to receive.
I knew following the tragedy of 12/14/12 that there were two questions I could answer: How do I not allow this tragedy to define my students and myself? How do I give my students and I our control back? In founding Classes 4 Classes I answered both.
Life is not what happens to us, life is how we react to what happens to us.