… Or so it seemed this week as I encountered dire predictions around every corner. December 21, 2012 maybe didn’t bring the Mayan Apocalypse that so many had hyped, but it did bring a much needed break in the school calendar for a nation weary of tragedy. We all surely stumbled with heavy hearts into the holiday season this year.
Has there ever been a week more trying to work in education than this one? I began the very first week of my teaching career with 9/11, yet going in to school this past Monday seemed more difficult than even that in many ways. After the events of December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut, it was little surprise to find that the most important part of my week as an administrator was to be visible and present at the carline in the morning. More than ever, parents dropping off their children to school needed to see a reassuring presence outside welcoming everyone into the building. A simple smile and wave without a doubt accomplished more than any paper I pushed this week.
Like so many in the field of education, for me it has been a week of sober reflection juxtaposed with the need to maintain routine. Holiday traditions seemed more important than ever; so many times this week I found people anxiously looking my way – hoping to find permission to celebrate the season in a smile from me. The struggle to express grief in a season of joy is very real and truly heart-rending.
Looking for Answers
Perhaps it’s due to the winter solstice and the switch from shortened days to lengthening amount of light, but so much of the symbolism of the season is fraught with visual imagery. And I was struck this week at how important it was just to see and be seen when you are an instructional leader. Teachers and students needed to see me walking the halls just as parents needed to see me outside waving my hand. I have never been so manifestly conscious of the effect of my mere presence than I have during the course of this week.
As I finally tried to relax on Friday afternoon, I happened to come across the hype of the Mayan calendar on television. That’s when it struck me. The narrator touched on the actual definition of the word “apocalypse.”
Translated from Ancient Greek ἀποκάλυψις (apocálypsis) the term literally means “uncovering or lifting of the veil” – referring to a revelation or disclosure of knowledge. It doesn’t mean a thing about the end of the world!
Rather than Armageddon, an “apocalyptic vision” means being able to see through the present to the transition that is on the horizon. Seeing a future hidden by the minutiae of the present is not an easy task, yet it is the one expected of those who would lead our schools. This is especially true in an age dominated by sensationalism portrayed as fact. (Believe me, I got a lot of free advice this week!)
Every time we encounter another of these tragedies, it seems we lose another piece of our national innocence. Hope seems to become a commodity that we can no longer afford when we are confronted with the starkness of such senseless violence. But schools are no place for cynics – rather, they must be temples of hope that have faith in the future. The very act of teaching is one of hope that stems from a belief that we can affect change in the minds of the next generation.
Can that possibly be the lesson of this Christmas season? Even in a society of many faiths, might we dare to pull together as we pivot from the tragedy of death to the time of the year celebrating new birth and new light? Can we make our children the central focus of our culture? Can we learn from what Charles Dickens expressed in my favorite Christmas quote of all time?
But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
As communities like Newtown provide support for one another in the aftermath of violence, educators everywhere need to step up and provide continued voice to the true spirit of the season – that we are ultimately all in this together. If we can do this, and I believe we can and must, then we will truly mark a turning point – not only in our educational system, but in our entire society.
Perhaps the Mayans were right after all – if as Winston Churchill said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”