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updated: 12/23/2012 9:47 AM

Editorial: Victoria Soto and the devotion of teachers

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  • Victoria Soto, 27, was killed on Dec. 14 when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and opened fire.

    Victoria Soto, 27, was killed on Dec. 14 when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and opened fire.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has bequeathed many heartbreaking images.

One we can't get out of our heads is the story of Victoria Soto.

Reports indicate that when the assault began, she hid her students in cabinets, in closets, in a bathroom. Then, she alone stood exposed to meet the mad gunman. When he arrived, she told him that her students had gone to gym class. He shot her to death and then moved on. Her students, apparently, survived.

"You have," said John Harkins, mayor of Soto's hometown of Stratford, Conn., "a teacher who cared more about her students than herself."

Oh, it brings tears to our eyes just to think about it.

Such bravery.

Victoria Soto was not the only educator at that school to show it. Principal Dawn Hochsprung died while lunging at the armed assailant. School psychologist Mary Sherlach was not fleeing for safety when she was shot; she was running toward her killer. Behavioral therapist Rachel D'Avino died while shielding one of the students. So did teacher Anne Marie Murphy.

The bravery was not limited to those who were slain. Throughout the school, teachers and other staff members showed extreme courage in the face of horror.

Such bravery, yes. But such devotion too.

Here at home in the suburbs of Illinois, the topics of teacher pay and pensions are worthy subjects for public debate. There are legitimate issues to be resolved about what is fair and what taxpayers, school districts and the state can, in the final analysis, afford and sustain. It's reasonable to argue about the role and influence of public employee unions. We've raised questions on these matters ourselves.

They're all fair game for the public discourse.

But in arguing the politics, let's not dishonor an honorable profession.

Earlier this month, we launched a new series on "The Suburbs' Top Teachers" with a tribute to the remarkable work of Ryan Brown at Hoffman Estates High School.

A small number of online commenters couldn't stop themselves from trying to misappropriate the tribute and use it to launch a diatribe on teacher compensation. One commenter went so far as to try to list the salaries of Brown and every other teacher mentioned in the article.

We can assure you of this. In the past week, no one in Connecticut has been writing about Victoria Soto's pay and pension.

The compensation debate is appropriate, but there is a time and a place for everything. In the process of debating it, let's not dishonor a profession that deserves to be honored. Let's respect a devotion that ought not be disrespected.

We can't get the image out of our heads. We still shudder at the thought of it.

Only 27, with so much to live for, Victoria Soto responded the way a parent would.

As anyone with a son or daughter understands, a parent responds to danger by protecting the brood at all costs. Thankfully, most of us never have our courage tested to that extent, but few of us doubt that, if the time came, we would give our lives for our kids and that we would do so without hesitation.

This is the nature of parenting, a vital ingredient in the survival of the species. We do it without thinking. We do it instinctively.

It also is the nature of absolute love. Not all parents have it. But most do.

As Victoria Soto and Sandy Hook School so tragically demonstrated, most teachers have it too.

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