Over Christmas break a few weeks ago, my family and I went to Washington D.C. for a few days to explore the museums and monuments. Because I live on a public educator’s budget, I couldn’t afford a hotel downtown, so instead, we stayed at a discount hotel in the Maryland city of Silver Springs. While walking from our hotel to the Metro line one morning we walked past a pretty cool building that I recognized right away because of the awesome sculpture placed out front.
No, this sculpture was not placed in front of any of the Smithsonian museums or national monuments. It was in front of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the administration that studies climate and weather with the goal of enacting policy to support a healthy planet.
As a child, I had a dream of growing up and becoming a meteorologist. I loved studying the weather and learning about geography and wanted to put all of this together on TV. I actually began my undergraduate experience by pursuing a degree in broadcasting with a major in geography before changing things up and becoming a teacher, but that’s a story for another day. Needless to say, to me, seeing the building that housed NOAA was a highlight of the trip.
As we walked past the building, I stopped to take the picture above with my phone then went on to explain to my kids the significance of the sculpture out front.
I told them, “It is designed to represent Noah from the Bible. Remember in the book of Genesis the story of the man who built the ark? After the floodwaters came onto the earth, Noah, living in the ark with his family and a bunch of wild animals, started getting restless. He was feeling trapped and alone and wanted out, so Noah became the world’s first meteorologist. Initially, God told him it would rain, but after 40 days of downpours, Noah decided to try to make sense of things for himself, so he gathered up some doves, placed them in his hands, and sent them off flying. His belief was that if the doves came back to the ark that would indicate no dry ground and no food was to be found. After a few days of attempting this, unsuccessfully, eventually, the doves made a flight away from the ark that yielded hope. The doves came back gripping olive leaves between their beaks letting Noah know the end was near, giving him hope that the worst was behind him.”
As a man who has spent the last twenty years in education, I am going to be very honest, there have been many days where I have felt like I was living in the midst of a storm with ever-increasing waters. Increases in “accountability”. Teacher shortages. More testing. Less autonomy. Declining enrollment. Less financial support. Twenty years ago I made the decision to enter ranks of being a professional educator because I was given hope that the career carried with it tremendous promise and opportunity. I believed I had the power to change the world and to impact generations, then the rains came, and it felt like they would never stop.
In the last couple of years, however, I have been given the chance to spread my wings, metaphorically, and literally, by traveling around the country and visiting schools of every shape, size, and demographic makeup, and what I have found gives me so much hope. Each time I return to my day job, I feel renewed and optimistic because of the olive branches I am able to bring back.
I have seen administrators who serve people, not programs. I have seen parents who work beside teachers not against them. I have seen teachers embrace standards, not packages. I have seen students engaged and inspired. I have seen a focus return to the whole child, not the test score.
I have been able to meet people who remind us to teach with hooks and excitement. I have met people who encourage us to ignite our shine and put an emphasis on personal well being. I have met people who remind us that play is a natural way to learn.
In this day and age, sometimes you may feel like you are alone on a boat with a bunch of wild animals. You may feel like you are drifting aimlessly as storms swirl around you. I get it. I feel it too, but let me encourage you.
There is dry ground out there. There is a reason to keep going. There are others who think like you, who believe like you and want to encourage you.
In this new year, know that there is a reason to have hope. There is a reason to keep going and to keep growing. The rains are subsiding and the tides are turning. Believe me. I have seen it. It’s up to us to grab on to the olive branches being presented to us and to believe that we can now create a new world, better than the one in our past. That’s why we got into this in the first place. We got this. Keep going and let’s create the world we dreamed about we all dreamed about, together.