This has been a summer to remember. I thought, when I spoke at the Lincoln Memorial for Save Our Schools, that not much could top a day like that. Following Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol and speaking before Reverend Barber made for a day filled with people who I consider heroes. I honestly did not think I could top that high point and I still shake my head in disbelief that I was in that line up.
I know I stood up for my students, but I'm a nobody. I didn't change the world or change a policy...I just stood up for my kids and myself. I could make a list of teachers who have done as much and more than I have ever even considered. If I made a list of the top 100 teachers I know I wouldn't even make the list.
But following the Lincoln Memorial came an invitation from Dr Stephen Hawking to meet at Cambridge University. For a special education teacher there simply are no people I can think of who are more inspiring. He is everything that I fight for. He is proof that our special needs people have something to say. He is proof that we need to fund the programs that will allow our students to speak and share what is inside of them. He shows us that with wheelchair accessible curbs and support our people with mobility issues can get out and contribute. He is a voice for so many who cannot talk and whose communities don't invest in giving them a voice.
And he is a brave and fearless man who has looked difficulty and a gut-wrenching future in the face and said, "bring it." How many of us have the strength to fight like that? Who of us could write five books using a cheek muscle to scroll, one letter at a time, to make sure the world learns what is inside our head. Who of us has that grit and determination make the UNIVERSE a better place?
For me, this basement-room special education teacher who has been thrust into national headlines, I find myself smaller and smaller as each day goes by. I see the options I have to step out and make the world a better place and with each opportunity to make change I see that in the big picture I'm small. I'm tiny. I'm just a guy who fought back but with each realization that the changes I'm making are small, it gives me place in the world. Those are my changes. That was my step forward in the march towards civil rights and equality. That little flicker of hope I gave people is the light that I own and I will take pride in knowing that I have made a difference. But there are true heroes in the world. Men and women who change perception and fight a harder fight. I cannot be compared to those people nor do I wish to be.
I'm a teacher. I inspire my students. Some of us have a broader canvas but we all are doing the same thing. Teaching. Inspiring every day. Standing up for our students and doing our best to make this world a better world.
And sometimes we are rewarded and meet a true hero. Work hard teachers. Inspire those kids you so lovingly guard. One of them may end up being the hero we all wish we could be.
Brett Bigham was the 2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year and recipient of the 2015 NEA Award for Teaching Excellence