Of the 26 people who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, five were educators, and two were first grade teachers. Those women all died while trying to protect their students. Gilles Rousseau told me his daughter Lauren was killed trying to shield the children in her care from the bullets. Victoria Soto hid some of her students in a closet and jumped in front of Adam Lanza as he fired at her other students. One first grade teacher survived after hiding her students in a bathroom. Kaitlin Roig Debellis told my wife Kara Sundlun she really thought she and her students were going to die, and spent what she thought would be her final moments telling the children that they were loved.
The shooting had a big effect on teachers everywhere. On the day of the shooting, teachers at my children’s school were fighting back tears as they tried not to imagine the horror that claimed their colleagues in one of the most noble of professions.
For me, the shooting brought back memories of my first grade teacher at the Callahan School in Norwood, Massachusetts: Miss Rosemary Eagan. After four decades of not having any interaction with a woman who obviously played a huge role in my early years, I looked up her up. I couldn’t find an e-mail address, so I wrote a letter to the woman who taught me how to write, read and so much more.
A first grade teacher is so important in a child’s development. For many children, like me, the first grade is the first time you go to school for the entire day. I still have vivid memories of Miss Eagan and some of the things we learned, and field trips we took. She was caring, nurturing and quite frankly, Miss Eagan was pretty hot. Really. I was recently discussing this with my best friend at the time Kevin Sullivan, who also has memories of being hot for teacher, before we six year olds even knew what hot for teacher meant.
In the letter, I shared with Miss Eagan, now Mrs. Heffernan, my thoughts about Newtown and thanked her for taking care of me and for the guidance and protection that I was oblivious to as a little boy. It was the dawn of the 1970s and no one worried about guns in school, and the potential dangers then were nothing more than running with scissors, clunking heads on the slide at recess or eating too much ice cream on our walking field trip to the Neponset Valley Farm.
Miss Eagan promptly responded in perfect cursive penmanship identical to her signature on my now yellowed report cards. She told me she received the letter on Christmas Eve and it made her holiday extra special.
As we remember the 26 souls lost in Sandy Hook, let’s also remember the teachers who protect our children every day, and may we never see a repeat of December 14, 2012.
Miss Eagan is the teacher on the left in the first row. I’m on the far right in the second row, obviously not looking at the camera. My buddy Kevin Sullivan is to my right.