We Are Only Human

On the path to self discovery

On the Front Lines

The everyday bravery of teachers

"She put those children first. That's all she ever talked about."

That's a quote taken from Andrea Crowell, as told to the Associated Press, about her friend Victoria Soto, one of the teachers and administrators murdered in the Newtown, CT, tragedy.

In my 20 years of consulting with schools, I've witnessed acts of bravery performed by school adults time and time again, but none as dramatic as shielding a classroom full of children while a shooter closes in. Soto's sacrifice is of a magnitude that all of us stand in awe of, and we'll forever mourn the loss of a remarkable teacher and human being.

As I started Boston's annual Jingle Bell Run this past Sunday, I thought of Soto and of the brave men and women who, every day, put children first as I bowed my head during a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in Newtown. With the threat of snow overhead and holiday music churning, I thought of these young lives that have been forever silenced by this kind of random violence.

The race was meant to be festive, happy; but a cloud lingered over everyone. Even as eight maids-a-milking passed by wearing white tutus, followed by multiple Santa Claus donning red hats and ringing bells, I couldn't shake the thought of teachers all over the country who, in the wake of this tragedy, will go forward celebrating the holiday season in their classrooms with snowflakes haphazardly cut-out by tiny hands, sing-a-longs and homemade presents for parents, gingerbread houses and hot cocoa, and how heroic they are as they nurture their students, our children.

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It doesn't take a lunatic to enter the building for a teacher to make a split-second decision to impact, save, or preserve hope in a child's life. When Aiden arrived to school without a good night's rest because his parents were fighting most of the night, a teacher offered him a nap, in a private space, before starting his work for the day. When Samantha was distracted because she was hungry, an assistant principal walked her to the cafeteria to make sure she had something in her belly.

These are little acts, to be sure, but they reinforce that schools are oftentimes de facto parents—not always literally lifesaving, as in Soto's circumstance, but lifesaving in their kindness, sacrifice, and commitment to helping children succeed. Teachers not only educate, but in the spirit of their service they care and love our children in a way that heals, comforts, and offers consolation.

While we remember Soto, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Anne Marie Murphy, and Rachel Davino, let's also remember the teachers in our lives who put on brave faces every day—in exhaustion, in weakness, in tragedies personal and global—to put our children first.

Nancy Rappaport is associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

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