I caught a hashtag on Twitter today that feels full of daybreak and rightness. I’ll take it, the grace of a little breaking light in the waves of despair and sorrow that come attached to our relentless news cycle.
Some people, after bearing witness to the heroism of the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are honoring all teachers by naming today Thank a Teacher Day. You can read more about this idea or find a badge to post at Julieverse.
I like it. The truth is that teachers do save lives every day, and accept tremendous responsibility for children’s safety. We hope few are called upon as heroically as those in Sandy Hook, but we know teachers are often in the fray of all of society’s pervasive problems. Gang activity, street violence, domestic violence, bullying, child sexual abuse: the aftermath, if not the actual threat, all spills into their classrooms. Add to that hunger, acute poverty, mental illness. Looking out to a classroom of little ones looking forward, burdened by frequent need and the potential of danger, defines the life of many teachers.
I know for certain two teachers saved my life at critical emotional times. Mrs. O’Grady, in third grade, put book after book in my hand, stories that became the interior world that saved me from an otherwise damaging childhood. And Ms. Groth, my high school journalism teacher, told me I could be a writer and a publisher. That childhood damage had caught up with me and I was, as they say, acting out in rebellion, but she saw through it. She believed in me and gave me a junior year leadership role on our yearbook. I ran away from home that spring, and when I returned I expected to have lost the few things that mattered to me, including participating in publications. But Ms. Groth promoted me to editor my senior year, despite those problems, and promised to help me turn it all around. She saved me. I have so much gratitude for their work every day, and for the lifelong help they offered me.
We can reach back with thank you notes to those teachers that lifted us up, and we can pay it forward. One way to pay it forward is to fund projects on Donor’s Choose, so I’m going to do that later today when I feel myself tempted towards looking for more news about Sandy Hook. I can’t imagine what other soundbites I need to know, and I can’t imagine that anything I find will help me understand. But finding ways to uplift schools, that feels like gratitude and healing in action.
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