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Teachers Honored as Unsung Heroes

Waterbury teacher George Flaherty fought tears as he sat beside his 8-year-old daughter Margaret in a Waterbury church on December 19, praying for the victims of the mass shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School. "I am a teacher. I'm a parent. This could happen to any of us."

Flaherty was joined by an estimated 1,500 people, many teachers, at the Mass at The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, where 26 candles bearing the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting helped light the altar.

Father Dennis Connell spoke of the tragedy and senselessness of the deaths of 20 children and six adults at the school. He explained that the purpose of the mass was to honor the educators who made heroic efforts to protect their students. "They made a difference to the very last moment." Referring to the man who gunned down the victims, Father Connell said, "Educators ran toward him, not away, trying to stop him."

Kevin Eagan, the president of the Waterbury Teachers Association, thanked the church community and the city's mayor for providing the "opportunity to grieve and pay tribute to our fallen colleagues."

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel traveled from Washington to join the service. He said that "the shooting established in our minds that it can happen anywhere."

Speaking of the victims, he said, "We can best honor their memory as a society by making sure we confront the cause of this head on. The best way, and perhaps the only way to prove that we can make this work is by coming together—educators, parents, and all citizens of conscience—and doing whatever it takes to protect our children."

Van Roekel added, "We owe it to the students who lost their lives and we owe it to the educators who died putting themselves in harm's way trying to stop evil from falling on their students."

Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O'Leary told the teachers assembled in the church t that they are "unsung heroes." He continued, "We must learn to listen more to teachers and administrators since they are in the trenches. It amazes me how many decisions are made without teacher input." O'Leary continued, "We have turned into a society of taking things for granted. I say we should never take our children's education for granted, and we should support our teachers and give them the resources they need to teach our children instead of putting all our emphasis on test scores."

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