How Dare People Blame Teachers for Sandy Hook Shooting?

Next time teachers' unions come under fire, people should remember heroes like those teachers who died to save their students in Newtown.

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A coffin bearing the body of Victoria Soto is carried out of Lordship Community Church after her funeral service, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, in Stratford, Conn. Soto was killed when Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.

Teachers have been unfairly blamed for a slew of problems—kids who can't pass arbitrary state tests, kids who misbehave, kids who drop out of school. But it's quite galling that a leader of the Tea Party Nation would actually blame teachers—actually, teachers unions—for the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school.

In an online post, Tea Party Nation member Timothy Birdnow slams teachers unions and advises parents to home-school, since "as long as we have group think in the classrooms we will never see the end of this."

[ See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Newtown shooting.]

Group think? If there was a "group think" at play on that horrific day, it was among the teachers who thought and acted quickly to get their young charges into safe rooms, then escort them—eyes closed, so they would not see the disturbing scene—out of the building. The teachers, six of whom were murdered that day, include such heroes as Vicki Soto, who was shot dead while she was protecting her students. Soto was just 27, and as the New York Daily News noted:

America knows her as the bright-eyed Sandy Hook teacher who died shielding her children from the bullets of a disturbed young man. But for her family and friends, Victoria "Vicki" Soto is more than just a smiling face. She was strong, fearless, energetic, silly, and passionate. She grew up playing with Barbies and listening to the Backstreet Boys. She loved "The Little Mermaid" and had nicknames for all her close friends. She planned ugly sweater parties and coordinated Secret Santa. She was a goddaughter, cousin, best friend, and big sister. And she loved being a teacher

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Did the Sandy Hook Shooting Prove the Need for More Gun Control?]

Yes, she sounds like a regular Jimmy Hoffa.

Teachers deal with a litany of challenges, more so than when I was in school. Not only must they teach the curriculum, but they must often deal with kids (and parents) with substance abuse problems, emotional troubles, learning disabilities, homelessness or just run-of-the-mill bad attitudes. They buy their own supplies for their classrooms. They are deemed "ineffective" if their students don't do well enough on state-administered tests, even if they happen to get a class of kids with particular learning difficulties. They get slammed, wrongly, for demanding, rightly, to be paid what they're worth and to be treated with basic dignity. It's as if their detractors don't believe teachers can ask to be treated with respect and still love their kids. In fact, one of the best lessons children can learn is to treat people with respect and dignity for their work.

Teachers shape lives. And last week, a teacher saved lives. The next time a school board or mayor or community blasts the teachers unions, perhaps they should respond with a single sheet of paper: a photo of Vicki Soto.