I don't typically like writing about politics, especially since the politics of today's world are so toxic, but I think this week is an exception. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson announced his retirement this week, and I want to tell you about an educational experience I had with him that changed my life. We get so tied down to what's going in our class, that sometimes we forget how much an experience matters. Hopefully, this post will show you why.
My family has known Senator Isakson since the early '80s. My mom was in Junior League with the Senator's wife, and we have been following his political career since he was a Georgia State Representative. In 2003, I had the honor of being selected as one of his summer interns in Washington, D.C. At the time, I saw this more as something fun, but as I reflect now, the effect it has had on my life is incredibly profound.
When I went to Washington in the summer of 2003, Senator Isakson was a representative that was running for U.S. Senate. It meant that most of my job as an intern came down to giving folks capitol tours. It used to be that people could move across the capitol freely, but since the attacks of September 11th, it requires having a staffer (either a tour guide or intern) with you. Since Senator Isakson was running for Senate at the time, it meant he could never turn these down, and it meant they fell to me.
The experience of leading these tours set me up incredibly well for my future. At the time, I only had one semester left to get my degree in Social Studies education. By touring the capitol each day, I was getting to experience one of the things I would teach about for the next ten years. I was able to take groups into the galleries of both houses of Congress, and literally sit there and watch them work. I developed stories that I used with my students for years. It was learning by experience, but it wasn't the only great thing about it.
While I knew of Senator Isakson and I had met him a few times, I had never really talked with him. This internship gave me a chance to, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he is just a great person. Think about that for a second. In today's toxic political environment, I know from experience that I can trust in the humanity of one of Georgia's only two Senators. Can you say that about your votes? If we all could say that, would we be in the political climate that we have today? I may not always agree with the Senator's stand on the issues, but just knowing him personally made it the most comfortable vote I ever cast.
I can also say this experience changed my life in a very profound way. I met my wife while I was an intern for the Senator. She was interning at the same time for a farm lobbyist group, and we actually met on a bus. We spent the entire summer together, seeing the sites, and now we have four kids. It all came off an educational experience.
If you are in a classroom, you may not be able to offer trips to D.C. or meeting a future spouse. You can, however, facilitate an experience that changes a kids life. You could have the next broadway star sitting in your classroom, and your field trip to the theater is what sparked that curiosity. It could be bringing in a career day speaker whose ideas were so profound that one of your students changed that career path. It could be setting up kids with local internships that turn into future jobs. You never really know, so trying new things is what can make an incredible difference.
I think as teachers, we get tied up too much into content, and we don't stop and take a look at the things that really matter. We in this field to prepare kids for the future, and we never know what they will really use. Why not give them the experience that lets them make a better decision?