There were some amazing stories of human courage and compassion that came out of the horrors in Newtown, Connecticut. Teacher Vicki Soto gave her precious young life to protect her tiny first graders. Shielding them from harm was her first instinct and her last act. In the face of terror unimaginable, her instinct to protect the defenseless students who depended on her for their safety and well-being did not fail.
If you think about it, she did this very thing each and every day. She went to that school and protected those children from the meanness of life as she spoke to them, I’m sure, in gentle teacher tones about being nice to one another, sharing, how to treat others who were different than them. She made choices daily about what language and tone to use in front of children, what attitudes to take and what clothes to wear. I didn’t know this amazing teacher, but in reading about her and knowing the calling she followed with her life, I can say with confidence that she spent the five years of her all-too-short career protecting little ones from harm on a daily basis.
Vicki Soto was a workaday patriot, with no medals and no parades. A sacrificial footsoldier of nurturing who fought on America’s front lines of care and compassion, two traits that are terribly lacking in our nation right now. Even as her career changed and faraway deciders made it more and more about competition, she retained her hold on nurturing. Thank goodness, because American children need that more than anything.
In another room in that building, fellow first grade teacher Kaitlin Roig locked her little ones in a bathroom and pulled a bookshelf in front of the door. She told the children to be perfectly quiet. She told the children there were bad guys out there right then and that they needed to wait for the good guys.
“As their teacher, I’m their protector,” the teacher told Diane Sawyer.
“I told the kids I love them,” she said, “and I was so happy they were my students…I said anyone who believed in the power of prayer, we need to pray.” And she didn’t leave out the children who didn’t believe in prayer. She told them to think happy thoughts. Even in a time of extreme stress, her thoughts were on the individual needs of those children.
She said she wanted “I love you” to be one of the last things they heard, because she was sure they were all going to die.
As this teacher contemplated her own death, she didn’t think about what she needed. She thought about what those little ones needed.
When the good guys finally showed up, Ms. Roig had enough strength and wisdom not to merely throw open the door, but to insist that the police officer slide his badge under the door. Even then, she told him that if he were really a cop, he could get the door unlocked, and she refused to open it for him.
The children told her, “I just want Christmas.” One student in that tiny bathroom told her that he knew karate and could lead the way out.
I can close my eyes and see this teacher taking those little students’ faces in her hands when they started to cry, and I can see her smiling at them even through the horrific fear settling in her own heart.
These teachers are such wonderful people, such unheralded heroes. These are our nation’s last nurturers, and look at how we treat them. We build systems to turn them into gladiators of merit. We call them union thugs to advance political agendas.
Shame on us. Let the nurturers nurture.
Thank you, teachers across America, for your courage and your sacrifice. Thank you teachers of Newtown for caring for other people’s children when they needed you most. You all deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There is no greater love than this, that a teacher would give her life for her students.