Above and beyond

As we all join the residents of Newtown, Conn., in mourning the 20 children killed in the deadly massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, let's remember six victims who were not children: the educators who perished along with their small charges.

Teachers and education professionals often are the targets of public criticism. They are called greedy for demanding fair pay and benefits. They are blamed when student test scores don't measure up. They are told they aren't working hard enough, that they don't deserve the salary and benefits they receive.

But when a disturbed young man with three guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School, those sometimes maligned staff members did not hesitate.

The principal, the school psychologist, a behavioral therapist and three teachers perished doing their best to protect their students.

When Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung and psychologist Mary Sherlach heard popping sounds in the hallway outside their offices, they immediately went toward the disturbance, and died.

Teacher Victoria Soto moved her first-graders away from the classroom door when she heard the gunfire, students who survived recounted later, hiding some in closets to keep them safe. She died when the gunman entered the room and shot her.

Teacher Anne Marie Murphy was found in another classroom, covering young children's bodies with her own in an apparent attempt to shield them.

Teachers work long hours under challenging conditions. They are expected to teach every child who enters their classrooms — even those from dysfunctional families who arrive damaged and ill-equipped to learn.

The bravery and heroism the Sandy Hook staff demonstrated in the face of unimaginable terror shows their dedication to their chosen profession — and offers a glimpse of their motivation for choosing that career.

Remember that when the issue of public school funding and public employee pensions comes up during next year's legislative session.

This is not to say that teachers' unions don't sometimes go overboard in negotiating contracts for their members, or that school budgets shouldn't be carefully scrutinized for unnecessary expenditures. But when those discussions happen, and you're tempted to demonize teachers, remember the Sandy Hook six — and think again.

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