The Mother Of A Sandy Hook Victim Pens An Amazing Letter To American Teachers

'Real heroes don’t wear capes. They work in America’s schools.'

Even though both my parents were professors, I’ve recently discovered a newfound appreciation for teachers. As some of you know my oldest son started Kindergarten this year, and whoo! They are not playing around at his school! He has had so much homework during this first week, and it’s been amazing. At the same time, sitting down and trying to get him to complete his Spanish assignment has me all like, ‘Yo. I don’t know how these teachers do it!‘ But beyond the daily work, there’s another element to teaching in America that is, unfortunately, far scarier. Hopefully, none of us have forgotten the massacre that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. A mother of one of the victims– a 6-year-old girl named Ana Grace– recently penned a letter in Education Weekly to the brave teachers of Sandy Hook, and the teachers heroes of America. Click inside for more. And for what will probably be your Thursday morning cry.

By Nelba Marquez-Greene, ‘A Sandy Hook Parent’s Letter to Teachers’:

As another school year begins and old routines settle back into place, I wanted to share my story in honor of the teachers everywhere who care for our children.

I lost my 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace on Dec. 14, 2012, in the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My son, who was in the building and heard the shooting, survived.

While waiting in the firehouse that day to hear the official news that our daughter was dead, my husband and I made promises to ourselves, to each other, and to our son. We promised to face the future with courage, faith, and love.

As teachers and school employees begin this new year, my wish for you is that same courage, faith, and love.

It takes guts to be a teacher. Six brave women gave their lives trying to protect their students at Sandy Hook. Other teachers were forced to run from the building, stepping over the bodies of their friends and colleagues, and they came right back to work.

When I asked my son’s teacher why she returned, she responded, “Because they are my kids. And my students need me now more than ever.” She sent daily updates on my son’s progress, from his behavior to what he’d eaten for lunch. And four months later, when my son finally smiled one day after school, I asked him about it. His response? “Mom. My teacher is so funny. I had an epic day.”

While I pray you will never find yourself in the position of the teachers at Sandy Hook, your courage will support students like my son, who have lived through traumas no child should have to.

Your courage will support students who are left out and overlooked, like the isolated young man who killed my daughter. At some point he was a young, impressionable student, often sitting all alone at school. You will have kids facing long odds for whom your smile, your encouraging word, and your willingness to go the extra mile will provide the comfort and security they need to try again tomorrow.

When you Google “hero,” there should be a picture of a principal, a school lunch worker, a custodian, a reading specialist, a teacher, or a bus monitor. Real heroes don’t wear capes. They work in America’s schools.

Being courageous requires faith. It took faith to go back to work at Sandy Hook after the shooting. Nobody had the answers or knew what would come tomorrow, but they just kept going. Every opportunity you have to create welcoming environments in our schools where parents and students feel connected counts.

Have faith that your hard work is having a profound impact on your students. Of the 15,000 personal letters I received after the shooting, only one stays at my bedside. It’s from my high school English teacher, Robert Buckley.

But you can’t be courageous or step out on faith without a deep love for what you do.

Parents are sending their precious children to you this fall. Some will come fully prepared, and others not. They will come fed and with empty bellies. They will come from intact homes and fractured ones. Love them all.

When my son returned to school in January, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Imagine the difficulty in sending your surviving child into a classroom when you lost your baby in a school shooting. We sent him because we didn’t want him to be afraid.

We sent him because we wanted him to understand that while our lives would never be the same, our lives still needed to move forward.

According to the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly half of America’s children will have suffered at least one childhood trauma before the age of 18. They need your love.

A few weeks before the shooting, Ana Grace and I shared a special morning. Lunches were packed and clothes were picked out the night before, so we had extra time to snuggle. And while I lay in bed with my beautiful caramel princess, she sensed that I was distracted and asked, “What’s the matter, Mom?” I remember saying to her, “Nothing, baby. It’s just work.” She looked at me for a very long time with a thoughtful stare, then she told me, “Don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry, Mom.”

As you begin this school year, remember Ana Grace. Walk with courage, with faith, and with love. And don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry.

I read this letter a couple of days ago, and reading it again I’m impressed by so many things. First of all, anyone who can lose a child and still form a coherent sentence or thought afterwards will never cease to amaze me. Second of all– although it’s subtle– when Ana Grace’s mom mentions the man who killed her daughter and so many other innocent people there is this supreme sense of love in her words. The fact that she was willing and able to acknowledge that he was a child once– and an innocent– really struck me. And I also appreciated the statistics she referenced from the National Survey of Children’s Health. We need to know that our children may be innocent, but many of them have led far from simple lives.

And then there’s the whole ‘don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry‘ thing. I mean, I don’t know about you– but I plan to live a good portion of my life by this sentiment alone.

Many thanks to little Ana Grace, to her mother Nelba for sharing this, and to the many, many teachers who inspired such powerful words.

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  1. SD

    i’m tearing up at work after reading this. SO beautiful

  2. Vicky

    The Sandy Hook school shooting was so heartbreaking in so many ways. The kids were so young. It’s senseless violence at it’s worst. The story of the teacher who hid her kids and died for them was honestly one of the most touching stories I have ever heard in my life. Did I ever have a teacher growing up who would have done that? The answer is easy… NOT LIKELY. That’s not to say I didn’t have good teachers. I had a couple. Out of like 40 teachers I had in my life, maybe three stand out. That’s the sad state of education these days. Most teachers don’t care. They want to, but they are worn out, burnt out and have just given up. I live in Canada, but it’s the same in the states I’m guessing. Education is NOT a priority in the way it should be. The first priority in every country should be educating the youth. They are the future. But, there are so many cuts every year. Every year they take more away and they never give it back. Class sizes are getting bigger. Teachers are able to give less personalized education. They have to deal with more so they are getting worn out earlier… yet still teachers want to teach and they want to make a difference. It’s about damn time that the governments give them the resources they need to do they job they were hired to do.

  3. Alecia

    I wish I could hug her. I don’t have kids but I was in school during the Columbine era and something traumatic happened in my class. One kid in my class punched our subsitute teacher and I was very scared. I know it pales in comparison to being in a shooting but any violence witnessed or experienced in school is very damaging not only to kids but to parents.
    Yesterday, as always for the past dozen years was hard for me. I didn’t lose any loved ones that day but I feel like I lost a good bit of my innocence back then as an 8th grader. And I can only imagine how much innocence these children who survived lost.
    The fact that Nelba has so much faith and courage to send her son to the same school her little girl died in is enough to make me realize whatever stupid thing that happens during my day is nothing compared to what they deal with. I feel like I should print this and post it anonymously for anyone who feel so entitled to complain about traffic, lines at Starbucks and the gas station, or irritating co-workers. In the grand scheme of things, they take something out of your day but fortunately most of us get to wake up and start over again instead of getting such an abrupt fade to black.

  4. Christy

    Kudos to Nelba!! As a mom of 2 school age children, I know that on that day, I picked my kids up early and held them as close as I could.
    It’s a sad day when the place you send your children to learn and grow becomes a place of terror. I remember sitting with my children and explaining to them what had happened and why mommy was so sad. (As a cancer survivor, their first thought when I cry is that I’m sick again, so you can only imagine their panic when I showed up at school crying!)

    As a mom, Sandy Hook will forever have a place in my heart. This mom said so many things so eloquently that I am passing it along to the teachers and to other moms. I am impressed and amazed at the love that she lets shine through in her words. Also, when she talks about the boy who did this, she helps us to remember that he was a child at one time, and that no child should ever feel invisible.

    I only hope that I can encourage my kids to live life to the fullest and not let anyone ever “suck their fun circuits dry”.
    After work tonight we are having family fun night, no matter how tired I am or how stressed I am by my job I need to remember to live every day to the fullest, to have fun, to hug my kids and to tell those that I love that I love them!

  5. OG Emily

    Between sobs and blowing my nose, I must be that grammar police for the teachers out there … Shannon, you need an “e” in heroes right before the jump.
    This mother … Her caramel princess, fun circuits … Perspective, now I have it.
    Has anyone here watched The Wire? Season 4 focuses all about the schools in Baltimore and how they’re operating on a deficit. To see the struggles of the teachers and principals among budget cuts, neglected children, extreme poverty and trying to inspire kids when it seems impossible. I know it’s just a show, but it’s still accurate and depressing. I have such respect for teachers and wish they had all the money they needed to buy supplies, hire staff, improve infrastructure … Educators truly are the heroes.

  6. Newb

    While I didn’t know the Greene’s personally, a very good friend of mine did, while they lived here in Winnipeg, and I can tell you that the Greene’s are a remarkable family. My heart breaks for all the Newtown parents who are forced to send their surviving children back into the warzone. Or worse, NOT have a child to send back. No words can describe the heartbreak these people must be feeling. But for Nelba Marquez-Greene to be able to write a letter like this shows incredible grace. God bless all the Newtown families at this difficult time of year.

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