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December 14, 2012: A Tragic Day

This blog was originally published on Finding Common Ground at Education Week by Peter DeWitt on December 15, 2012 9:15 A.M.

On Friday, every educator and administrator who is fortunate enough to work with students, regardless of whether they are in a primary or secondary school, had a piece of themselves taken away.

Every day in an elementary school is a good day. However, the month of December in an elementary school is filled with magic and excitement.

In their spare time students draw pictures of Santa and make lists of the toys they want for the holidays.

As much as teachers want to focus on the common core, students want to focus on snow and presents. Presents they may receive or presents they can give to their parents.

Friday began exceptionally well as I put on my sweatpants and sweatshirt. Our school participated in a pajama day, and as I stood on the front sidewalk welcoming students off the bus wearing their pajamas I was amazed at how many kids participated. Students ran off the busses smiling and laughing. They wore pajamas with peace signs, different animals and the ever-popular Angry Birds. The students either donated a dollar, or they donated a pair of new pajamas as part of a fundraiser to provide pajamas for children who couldn't afford new ones or were living in local homeless shelters.

That's the great thing about kids. They want to help. Children are like clean slates, and every experience their teacher or parent provides them with helps them become better adults. In December, kids can be crazed with excitement which is why working with them keeps us young during the day, at the same time we go home feeling old and tired at night.


The happiness for our staff ended when we heard of the tragedy a couple of hours away in Newtown, Connecticut. We were numb when we thought of all of the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are no words that can describe what happened on Friday. The news calls it a massacre but there should be new words that are created to describe what happened because massacre doesn't seem to cut it.

Elementary school children are what is great about our world. They have their lives ahead of them, and their smiles can light up a room. When we are in a bad mood a hug by an elementary school student can brighten our day. On Friday, our innocence was taken away.

As an elementary school principal, my heart is broken. Friday was never supposed to happen in an elementary school. It was tragic enough when it happened time and time again in high schools around the country. When it happened in a couple of middle schools, we all thought about how young those students were, and how tragic those events were. It was unimaginable that it would ever happen in an elementary school.

The stories will now come out. The media will inundate us with news we don't want to hear. Other media outlets will give tell us stories that will make us cry (One such story appeared in the N.Y.Times). Even in my own life, I found out that Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook, was in her first semester of the doctoral program I graduated from, and I never had the chance to meet her even though all the cohorts get together once a year.

Teachers and Students
Peter DeWitt is an elementary principal in upstate, New York. He blogs at Finding Common Ground for Education Week and is the author of Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press). Connect with Peter at, or on Twitter, @PeterMDeWitt.

Teachers and principals don't just teach their students. They love them. After being a principal for seven years I have watched countless children grow up and reach milestones. When summer rolls around, we miss the kids when we go to empty buildings. We miss the laughter, loud voices in the halls, and the engagement in the classroom.

Teachers, contrary to popular belief, look forward to the end of summer when they can meet a brand new group of students. Students who one day will grow up and become teenagers and come to see us on visits from high school or send us pictures through Facebook when they go to college. It makes all of us angry, sad...even devastated that a group of students from Sandy Hook will not be able to do that, and a group of adults that gave their lives will never be on the receiving end of those visits.

On Friday, every educator and administrator who is fortunate enough to work with students, regardless of whether they are in a primary or secondary school, had a piece of themselves taken away.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School. A piece of all of us who call a school our home was lost that day.

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