February 2013 Issue
January 28, 2013

Letters: We must continue their legacy

Source: NYSUT United

Editor's note: The following letter was written after two separate tragic events — the Dec. 14 massacre of students and educators in Newtown, Conn., and the Dec. 24 ambush of firefighters responding to a house fire in Webster, N.Y. Firefighters Tomasz Kaczówka and Mike Chiapperini were shot and killed.

We must continue their legacy

The recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary School and in my hometown of Webster, where I teach high school, have left me more than saddened. In both communities, a gunman ended the lives of numerous innocent people.

My current grief in Webster punctuates the countrywide mourning over the losses of innocent children and educators.

I know the Kaczówka family personally, so the loss of Tomasz has brought all of this very close to home. As I mourn, though, beams of light seem to cut through the darkness and hint at hope.

The Newtown teachers, principal and school psychologist, along with the Webster firefighters, are servants in the deepest sense of the word. They served us, our children and our families. But their service was not confined to the day they gave their lives. Indeed, the back-story of their years of service is a centrally important part of the narrative.

And this points to the hope I am desperately trying to hold onto.

These men and women represent their vocations as firefighters and educators powerfully. Choosing to be a firefighter or a teacher is a "calling." It is a calling to serve sacrificially day after day. In this way, their loss also points to the dedicated professionals in these vocations who continue to serve our communities every day.

Teachers and first responders serve our communities because they love those they serve.

All of us are humbled by the sacrifices made on Lake Road and at Sandy Hook Elementary, the highest sacrifice one can offer … that they would lay down their lives for another.

But their sacrifice was not in vain; they entered their vocations as public servants and made a difference. They were heroes before their lives were tragically and senselessly cut short. And their legacy is carried on in firehouses and in schools throughout our communities.

That is the hope I cling to in these days even as I mourn with others. There are, and will continue to be, firefighters and educators ready to serve and invest in others to carry on the legacy of all those who have recently given their lives in sacrificial public service.

Greg Ahlquist | 2013 New York State Teacher of the Year
Webster Teachers Association

It takes courage to teach

Teaching requires conviction. It requires self-confidence and a sense that one is doing the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. It requires the resolve to stand up to the fact that we live in a society that is all too ready to assign blame to teachers when artificial standards that society sets are not met. We are all too ready to declare that things need to be fixed, that we could do a better job, and that we could solve the problems of education.

And now we must mourn the loss of six of our colleagues who died doing not what educators do, but doing what heroes do.

Alas, we have somewhat devalued the term hero. Heroic acts go beyond the ordinary. They go beyond the day-to-day expectations. They embody the greater actions of selfless response to situations that are often beyond the ability of people to prepare for or to comprehend.

It took the events of 9/11 to make us accord "first responders" the respect they had long ago earned but had not received. Now it will have taken the tragic event in Connecticut to do the same for educators.

Educators have always been first responders. Other than parents, they are the first to respond to the critical need to educate our children, to guide them and lead them, to point them in the right direction.

And in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, they were among the first to respond to the violent assault. It was an act beyond courage. It was the selfless response of people who care more about others than themselves. It was the response of people who, like parents, give no thought to personal safety when the safety of those they love is at risk.

The true extent of their heroic actions will likely never be known. What is known is that they slowed the assault, impeded its progress, shielded and protected and comforted children and bought time for the "good guys" to arrive. Six paid for that time with their lives, and others inevitably would have.

And now we must understand that what was already a difficult job has now become more difficult because teaching will never again be the same. A sense of "what if" will infringe upon the day-to-day routine of education — the atmosphere, the energy, the very sense of what school is will change.

But teachers will not change. They will continue to do what they love to do, what they must do. They will show up every day and focus their incredible energy on the young people in front of them — to educate, guide and lead. And we will all join them in praying that they will never again have to be heroes.

Herm Card | Marcellus Faculty Association, retired