I have spent much of this year imploring educators to never again say that we are "just" teachers. Because of the tremendously vital work that educators carry out on a daily basis, I have spoken and written about the need to enhance the cultural perception of teachers, in particular, and education in general.
This was before Friday's incomprehensible tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Shaken, emotionally numb and feeling helpless, I found myself thinking that, after all, maybe I am just a teacher. What could I possibly do or say that could make a difference?
Then, stories of heroism and selflessness from Newtown began to make their way onto social media sites and the reports from news outlets. Stories of the educators who gave their lives protecting their beloved students emerged. There were the reports of teachers who read to their classes or gave them paper and crayons to draw on to maintain a sense of calm.
Other accounts of educators doing everything in their power to care for and shelter their students certainly will come to light in the coming days. In the face of unspeakable circumstances, they continued to fulfill the same responsibilities they carry out every day: to nurture, support, and love their children regardless of ethnic, religious, socioeconomic or other differences.
Although many will say how fortunate their students are to have them, I'm sure that these educators would say how lucky they have been to know and teach their students. I'm sure that in each case, every one of these educators would claim that there was nothing heroic in their acts, that they were only doing what they could to keep their children from harm. They would perhaps say that they did what anyone with the genuine heart of a teacher, or a parent or a first responder would do.
Perhaps part of their legacy will be a societal re-examination of the significance of educators and a better appreciation for our sense of duty to our students and our profession. Across the country, our educators commit countless deeds of kindness and altruism for the good of their students, colleagues, schools and communities. They expect nothing in return but to know that they have made a difference.
In other countries, the respect afforded the teaching profession bolsters their societies and helps to sustain it in so many ways. We should find ways to emulate these values and perceptions. We can honor the memories of the deceased by honoring the teachers who perform their noble duties daily. We can collectively elevate the status of education in our society and better support our teachers, students and schools.
Prospective and beginning teachers need supportive colleagues who act as professional models and guides. What is often overlooked, however, is that experienced teachers need motivation and encouragement as well.
To so many, the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrate that the core values of education mirror the greatest ideals of humanity, and they are exemplars in this regard. They offer us hope, and reinforce our belief in the goodness of others and the power of education. In an era of accountability, standards, testing and data, they affirm that what ultimately matters most are the immeasurable lessons and the enduring relationships teachers cultivate with their students.
To the educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School, thank you for the powerful, inspiring example of dedication and compassion you have given us. You have made, and continue to make, a difference to so many. In the midst of this unfathomable loss and profound sorrow, you have buoyed our spirits and given us hope. Because of your passion, courage, sacrifice, and devotion, I am once again reassured to proudly declare to educators everywhere: Never again say, "I am just a teacher."
David Bosso of Berlin is the 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year and teaches at Berlin High School.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun