I love to travel. I find that, when I don’t find the time to do so, that my focus loses breadth and my perspective grows narrow. I become one-track minded, and I forget how much is truly out there for us to learn.
I had the pleasure of visiting Washington D.C. this past weekend for the National Board Teaching and Learning Conference. As a first-year Board Certified teacher, it was nothing but inspiring to see what the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has done for the profession, and I could not think of a more fitting place than Washington D.C. to have teachers gather to discuss the importance of our profession and its trajectory over the course of the next decade, not only because of the historical and political significance of D.C., but also because of the capitol’s commitment to learning through its incredible museums.
In my spare time, of course, I took advantage of these, most of which are free. I was able to visit several museums within the Smithsonian Institution, including the Natural History, American History, Air and Space, Hirshhorn, and American Art museums. But my favorite was, by far, the Holocaust Museum.
World War II has always been a fascination of mine, specifically the Holocaust, not only because of the mere shock factor that seems to accompany that historical factor, but also because the idea that an entire group of people could stand by, watch, and in some cases actively support their neighbors being punished and imprisoned for mere aspects of their identities is absolutely astounding to me. I walked through the eerily quiet museum, coveting the artifacts, reflecting on their purpose in the world, and their purposes in my life.
While walking and exploring, I found that in every shard of wood, every piece of rubble, every shoe, and every piece of paper covered in drawings and ink, I saw people who once lived; I saw humans. I saw people who had hopes, dreams, aspirations, and as a result, I saw people who had their own stories. I remembered the importance of telling our own stories, and I recounted the times when I felt like a mere name on the wall — a face with an unimportant, irrelevant, or untimely story — which made it all the more important to me to actually see and hear these stories. And it reminded me that, while our individual stories may feel somewhat insignificant, our individual stories help to build the collective, making each one of us just as important as the next, even if it only changes the collective story in the slightest.
This collective story — the story that we all help to tell — is the image that is created from millions of pixellated stories; it’s the summation of the pink, green, and blue dots of a pointillist painting; it’s the gradient of individually refracted rays of light in the air that fade from yellow to black at sunset. In each of these instances, even though it’s nearly impossible to find the points where the colors change, we know the change is happening. We know because we can see the bigger picture, but that’s not always possible when we see ourselves as the pixel.
While each one of these stories is merely a drop in the bucket, each one of these drops help to build the collective story — the story of which we are all a part, and the story that protects us as humans. And my job — the best job in the world — is to help children learn as many parts of that story as possible.
Above all else, this weekend reminded me that, as teachers, it is essential for us to be learners as well. It is essential for us to go through the vulnerable experience of admitting that we don’t always know — that we don’t always have the answer. Going through this process helps us to empathize with our students once again, and it helps us to see that the learning process is experiential, serendipitous, and, of course, endless.
It helps us remember that there will always be more stories in the world to hear. And it’s our job to help our students hear them.