12/22/2012 04:29 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2013

The Test of Our Times

Like many students -- on my campus and around the country -- I spent the Sunday night before finals week up all night, without even attempting to go to bed or look away from computer until close to 6 AM.

Unless you're 13-years-old and/or at a slumber party, all-nighters are not particularly fun and hardly ever worth that distant, zombie-like appearance it leaves you with, but this all nighter was particularly harrowing -- even for finals week.

Unlike my peers, who were studying for exams or completing assignments, I was up reading about the tragedy in Sandy Hook and trying to do the impossible: Make sense of a situation completely incomprehensible.

I -- an aspiring writer and professional chatterbox -- was at a rare loss of words. I didn't know how to express how I felt; guilty for giving into the obsessive, 24/7 media coverage; devastated as I read each of the children's birth dates; angry and betrayed by the media, who handled many aspects of the situation so poorly; sympathy for the victim's families, who not only lost such important people in their lives, but also had to deal with the frustration of rumors and pieces coming together in a very public way.

Most of all, I felt insignificant. There was nothing I could do to help these people, to bring back their children or their parents, to remove their darkest, intimate moments from the front pages of the newspapers. Like many Americans, I couldn't look away, but I didn't know how to help.

But the hardest part of the situation is that I was expected to accept that. It is, after all, finals week, and I'm supposed to carry on with my stress and dramatized misery, despite the very publicized reality that there are much bigger problems in the world.

Ironically, the particular assignment that I had been struggling to complete was about why high-stakes testing programs like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind are unfair ways to assess teachers.

Good teachers aren't a test score or a list of graded criteria; the tragedies at Sandy Hook prove more than ever that good teaching is compassion, leadership and dedication.

Good teachers are fearless; Victoria Soto faced the gunman in order to protect the students she loved. Good teachers are devoted; Anne Marie Murphy was discovered using her body to shield the students. Good teachers are inspiring; school psychologist Mary Sherlach challenged the gunman to guard their students. Good teachers are engaged; principal Dawn Hochsprung's Twitter feed is a window into her world, dedicated to education.

Good teachers are courageous and resilient, noble and resourceful. Teachers like those effected by the tragedy, not only the victims but also the brave survivors, are why teaching should be valued as more than just a student's test score.

Good teachers are supportive; those teachers helped me understand my assignment better, even after finals were cast aside and life was suddenly put in perspective.

In August, Ms. Hochsprung welcomed the new class of kindergarteners and, on her Twitter, wrote that they were "74 new opportunities to inspire lifelong learning."

It made me realize that the stress associated with finals is because finals is a bit of a misnomer; knowledge isn't limited to school and education doesn't end with graduation or the culmination of a class or a curriculum -- learning is, in Ms. Hochsprung's words, a lifelong experience.

Great teaching is eternal -- because even after death, each one of those teachers helped me better understand my world and myself.