In Honor of Victoria Soto
During the month of March, the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers, to which I belong, is designating Thursdays as day to express gratitude publicly for teachers who have helped shape our lives. We are doing this to help remind the community of the power of teachers to change lives, something that can get lost in the constant narrative of politicians and media who claim that schools are failing and that teachers are lazy and inept, needing merit pay and mass firings to light a spark under them and make them try harder.
On my own path to becoming a teacher, I have been so fortunate to have had teachers who inspired me, believed in me and encouraged me. I am sure that I will be writing about those teachers who I personally have known in the Thursdays to come. Today, I am taking the time to honor a teacher who I never knew, but continues to inspire me by her heroism and sacrifice. Let's take a moment to remember Miss Victoria Soto, who was killed protecting her first grade students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012.
Vicky Soto here looks so beautiful and vibrant, her class alive with the life cycle of butterflies and the soft pastels of spring. The place mats on the table lead me to believe that this might have been a Mother's Day Tea celebration, something I often did in my kindergarten classroom. I've seen other pictures where Vicky was helping her first graders celebrate the 100th day of school, something else I often did with my class. A creative and hard-working teacher, doing what teachers do each day in what should be the innocent and secure place that elementary schools always were, until that terrible day on December 12th.
The reports all say that Vicky hid her little first graders when the shots were being fired. When the gunman came, she told him they weren't there. Her bravery and self-sacrifice resulted in her death, but how courageous and spectacular to put her little students ahead of her own fears and her own natural desire for safety.
I think of Vicky often, though I never knew her. We are not often called on to be heroes in such a big way, as Vicky was. Yet her bravery and kindness push me to find ways to be a hero where I can be, to do more for the students who are suffering, in need, in pain. When I get overwhelmed with all my "to-do's (and as a teacher, they are endless), I think of Vicky and work to set aside the negative feelings, to find the gratitude I have for being a teacher, such a truly important job in this crazy world.
Every profession has its "bad apples", but the teachers I know are the ones who are heroes each day, in quiet ways and not so quiet ways. The teacher putting extra snacks in a student's backpack because he has no food at home. The teacher bringing groceries to a family on the weekend because she was also worried the family had nothing. The teacher who gives a student new supplies and fresh crayons and markers because that student loves to draw. The teachers who entertained their students who were trapped overnight in school because a blizzard made it impossible for them to get home. The teachers who protected their students when tornadoes swept through their schools.
And teachers, like the beautiful Miss Victoria Soto, who put her life on the line for her students. "There is no greater love than to set down your life for your friends," is a phrase I've heard and Vicky Soto showed great love for her students in her heroism and sacrifice.
Today, on Thankful Thursday where we pause to think of teachers who've made a difference, I honor Victoria Soto and the difference she made as a teacher. In her honor, I will try harder to be a more patient teacher, a more giving teacher, a kinder teacher, more joyful, more present, less hurried, less worried, braver and better.