Alliance President Shelley Potter: Reflections on Newtown Tragedy

San Antonio AllianceUncategorized

(Please note: I use the term “teacher” in this message as an inclusive term for all staff in the school because you all teach in one way or another – the librarian, the instructional assistant, the principal, the counselor, the food service employee, the custodian, the nurse, everyone.)

Like many of you, I spent a lot of time this past weekend reflecting on the tragedy in Connecticut. I reflected both as a parent and as a teacher.

As a parent, I wanted to thank every teacher who my sixteen-year-old daughter has ever had, every teacher who has loved her as though she were their own child. As a parent, I thank you for all that you do every day to serve our children and our communities. You are unsung heroes. I think many around our nation have realized that over the past few days.

This tragedy hits teachers in a special way. Not only do we feel the range of emotions that others do, as a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle, we also feel a pain that I think only those of us in education can truly grasp. For me, as a former first grade teacher, it was when I first saw the list of students’ names with their ages that I felt the deepest pain for I knew after seeing the first few that they would all be first graders. The names of my own first grade students from over the years flooded my mind, and I thought about how they each had their own little personality and how precious they each were.

Every teacher I know refers to his or her students as “my kids.” We spend our days (and oftentimes, our nights) worrying about our kids . . . trying to figure out the best way to teach a particularly difficult concept, wondering how we can best reach a student with challenging behaviors, deciding if this approach will work with that child, figuring out where this child can get shoes or a coat (or buying them ourselves) and the list goes on. So, we are not surprised that the teachers at Sandy Hook did what teachers instinctively do: they protected their kids. We mourn the loss of the children and of our colleagues, and we grieve for their families.

For those of you who are Alliance members, I want you to know that we lost not only members of our education family but also members of our union family. One of the Alliance’s national affiliates, AFT, represents teachers in Newtown. Two of the staff who lost their lives—school psychologist Mary Sherlach and teacher Victoria Soto—were AFT members. The school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was a member of a sister union, the American Federation of School Administrators. Also killed were behavioral therapist Rachel Davino, educational assistant Anne Marie Murphy, and substitute teacher Lauren
Rousseau. Lead teacher and AFT member Natalie Hammond was shot but survived.

The national AFT, AFT Connecticut, the Newtown Federation of Teachers, the Newtown Federation of Custodians and Maintenance, and the Newtown Federation of Education Personnel are all working to help provide support to those in need in Newtown—the students, teachers and staff affected by this tragedy, and the entire community. The Alliance’s other national affiliate, the National Education Association, has also offered support, and NEA staff will be joining AFT staff in Connecticut.

For those of you who would like to send your messages of condolences to the students, teachers, staff, and community of Newtown, you can do so at