An Important Message From the Dean About the Tragic Events in Newtown, Connecticut

December 16, 2012

School of Education Students,

In the midst of your preparation for the end of a busy semester, when you were anticipating the holidays and some rest and relaxation during the January break, we were all stunned and saddened by the events in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As you know, a tragedy beyond imagining struck children, their teachers, their parents, and the entire community. As President Obama has said, this “has broken our hearts.” I expect that you, like we and other educators, are experiencing feelings of sorrow and loss even in the midst of a joyous season.

I hope that, as a future teacher, you take some comfort in the strength, dedication and bravery of teachers who risked their own lives to protect young children. The words of a young teacher who survived are one example. Her story is a testimony to the depth of feeling that underlies daily routines of teaching and learning for educators in so many schools and classrooms across our country and around the world – although thankfully, you, as they, will likely never encounter life-threatening circumstances like these.

This young teacher described hurrying her students into a closet and pulling a bookcase across the door to prevent bullets from penetrating. She told her students to be “very quiet,” reaching out to individual children to hold their faces in her hands and assure them that “everything is going to be OK,” all the while believing that they were likely to die since they were in the room closest to the gunshots. As she waited with her children, she told them, “I want to you all to know, I love you very much!” And as the radio interview concluded, she sobbed, then added,” I thought we were going to die, and I just wanted the last thing they heard to be that someone loved them.” I am not sure I have quoted her words, exactly, but her story brought tears to my own eyes and a pain in my heart.

In choosing education as a profession, many students tell us they want to become teachers in order to “make a difference in the world.” Hopefully such a devastating event will never tear at the hearts and minds of any school, or family, or community again. But the heroism of those who died, and the compassion and caring of teachers who survived, deepen our awareness and appreciation of the warmth of spirit, the dedication, and the love for children that characterize the best of our profession. 

That spirit is evident in many ways during this pre-holiday season as we share small celebrations with our friends, with our families, as a part of the School of Education, Pace University, and our own communities. As your professors and mentors, we urge you to reach out to us, to those who are closest to you, or to student support services provided by the University should you need to share your questions and emotions during this difficult time. You may always reach out to the School of Education Director of Student Support Services (John Di Natale in Pleasantville at 914-773-3571, Rita Murray in New York City at 212-346-1338) for further support or assistance in accessing university counseling services. The Pace University Counseling and Personal Development Center is available to assist all members of the Pace community. You may contact the Counseling Center directly in Pleasantville at 914-773-3710 or in New York City at 212-346-1526.

We also suggest that you avail yourself of many resources as you plan to return to the classroom in the coming weeks. The National Educators Association, the largest teacher’s organization in the United States, has great strategies and resources for teachers to help their students following a crisis, which you may access here. While not geared exclusively for educators, PBS Parents also has tips for talking (and listening) to children about scary events in the news, which are helpful for any adult who interacts with children. We encourage you to speak with professors and mentors for additional strategies and support as you return to the classroom.

We wish you a safe and restorative holiday and look forward to your return in January to continue your journey toward a profession that not only lights the fires of learning in young minds, but offers the strength, caring and support that sustains and nurtures hearts as well. Please know that you have the thoughts, concerns and support of the entire School of Education behind you.

Sincerely,

Andrea (Penny) Spencer, PhD
Dean, School of Education
Pace University