One of the fun things I’ve gotten to do this summer is visit the Kennedy Space Center. If you’re ever in central Florida, I highly recommend that you make the drive to the Space Coast. There are tours, a launch simulator, a real Saturn V rocket, astronaut presentations…it’s a space nerd’s happy place. I had been a few other times, but I think I enjoyed this visit the most, in part because of the new exhibits.
There is a new building that is housing one of NASA’s space shuttles from its now-defunct shuttle program. You can see Atlantis, take pictures in front of it, see artifacts and a movie about it. It’s definitely a unique experience. The whole place is thrumming with energy.
But there is one part of the downstairs area that is hushed, solemn, reverent.
NASA doesn’t gloss over the fact that their soaring trajectories into space have not always been successful. The explosions of Challenger and Columbia are remembered, and their crews memorialized, in a beautiful tribute. Each tragedy is remembered collectively–showing images of the public memorial services with Presidents Reagan and Bush, the letters children wrote to NASA offering condolences, the photo of each shuttle’s crew. But NASA went a step further and offers an individual memorial to each astronaut who perished. In one hall, with the Challenger astronauts on the left and the Columbia astronauts on the right, visitors to Kennedy Space Center have the opportunity to view photographs and memorabilia that were important to each individual astronaut.
Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Mike J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe on the left. Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon on the right.
Let’s be honest. What is the one name that most people recognize out of all of those?
Christa McAuliffe. With the explosion of Challenger just over a minute into launch, not only did NASA lose seven astronauts, but it also lost their first (and last) teacher in space. There is at least one astronaut post-Challenger who was also a teacher (Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe’s backup, later went through the full astronaut training program as an astronaut, not a teacher), but never again did NASA risk launching a teacher into orbit.
Visiting the memorial was sobering. There was a presence in this part of the building that made voices lower, kids slow down, adults wipe away a tear when no one was looking. The whole exhibit was beautiful and meaningful. But you know what I heard over and over?
“Let’s find the teacher.”
“You know, there was a teacher on one of those.”
“Have you found the teacher yet?”
“Where’s the teacher?”
“Come on, kids, let’s find the teacher.”
“Where’s the teacher?”
And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? We are teachers. We are known entities. Everyone has had teachers in their life. We usually throw around that statement when we’re talking about everyone thinking they can be a teacher just because they went to school, but think about it. Everyone has had teachers in their life. Everyone. Everyone.
Every parent. Every child. Every taxpayer. Every voter. Everyone for us, and also everyone against us.
Some had better experiences than others. Some, admittedly, want to gut the profession. But most don’t. Most are on our side.
Most respect us. Most look at us on field trips and party days and field days and say in amazement, “I don’t know how you do it.” Most are as excited as their kids to see who their new teacher will be this year. Most will support the teacher.
(Not all. I know that. I’ve lived that. But most.)
Because of teachers, there are students organizing and protesting. Parents are blogging, investigating, and becoming politically active. There is a hunger strike underway in Chicago as people fight to save public education from an untimely death. The national opt-out movement is growing stronger; just ask New York and Washington. At NPE’s conference last spring in Chicago, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, NEA’s President, said that people are beginning to wake up. Why? Because they’re hearing teachers’ voices. AFT President Randi Weingarten said that teachers are first responders to poverty–we see children as they are, not who they (deformers) want them to be. And parents recognize that. They respect that. They get that we are in the classroom day in, day out, with their children–not the so-called experts who are anything but. As Diane Ravitch said in Chicago, “There are so many of us, and so few of them.”
We are fighting so many battles. Teacher quality of life. Teachers fighting for their jobs. Testing, testing, testing. Data, data, data. It’s a struggle each day to not be demoralized by what we are seeing and hearing.
But as this new school year takes shape, we have to remember (I have to remember)–There are more people on our side than the opposition, and our side is growing every day. We are not the wealthy 1%, but we have power in numbers. We will fight back. We will persevere. We will still be around after the millionaires and billionaires have found a new hobby (tm Ravitch).
We are teachers. We are everywhere.
We will win.
And so will the children.
A quick postscript, because some are asking…summer is coming to a close and there are finally some job prospects. Here’s hoping for some good news on that front.