“I want every child to be visible,” Jessica Solano, 2017 Florida Teacher of the Year, told me when the State Teachers of the Year were honored in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago. Her simple statement about the importance of visibility had a powerful effect on me.
My vision is worsening. When my eye doctor told this me several weeks ago, he asked, “What do you do?”
“That is the problem,” he said. The problem?
If I knew teaching would weaken my eyes, I wondered, would I have chosen a different profession?
Looking at my 2017 cohort group of State Teachers of the Year crowded around the president in the Oval Office, I saw many things. I scanned the room, wanting to see every person, wanting to remember every minute detail, but my vision was not providing me the best opportunity. Casey Bethel, 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year, wore a different color badge indicating he was not born in the U.S. But I also saw the impressive group of teachers being inducted into the National Teacher Hall.
What I didn’t see also made me a little bit sad. Our families, the people who made our presence in that room possible, had been left in another building. I thought especially about my husband Donald, who fought in Iraq to preserve the freedom that the White House and this nation represent. I wished he could be here instead of waiting in the Eisenhower Office Building.
I also heard something. Something wonderful. While the bulbs glared and pictures snapped I heard Abdul Wright’s voice. Wright is the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year who asked President Trump, “Can we sing Lift Every Voice and Sing?” And the president said, “Yes.”
At that moment, I closed my eyes, placed my hand on my heart, and let my ears guide me. I sang as loudly and brazenly as I could.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Mine was not the only voice that broke under the gravity of the moment, but we pushed through to the end. I allowed my hearing to guide me. I let my ears be my eyes.