Landing on Our Feet
A speech by Ryan Anderson (transcribed by our writing team)
Every school year, on the last day on the academic calendar, the staff of the Dover-Eyota School District gather in the cafeteria at the secondary building to celebrate the work that has been done over the course of the academic year. This year, cupcakes were served and ice cream dished out, as were many awards for years of service, retirees, and more. One person always recognized is the Dover-Eyota Education Association teacher of the year : this year, that is the secondary band instructor, Ryan Anderson.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you today. I want to start with a question. How many of you actually know something about Social Emotional Learning within the classroom?
I was wondering what that was before I took a class this fall. If I could put it into one sentence or two, maybe a question, I would have to start with: “How does it feel to be in the classroom? How does it feel to learn? Are we recognizing the feelings of each other?” If I had to put that into why social emotional learning is important, it would be because it is the magic that gets us to the next level. And, recognizing people as individuals in unique circumstances--we aren’t all going to the same place, but us recognizing that we all have potential, understanding how our students feel in the classroom, is equally important as them passing a quiz or test. Right now, if we think about how we feel… Well, it has been such a crazy year.
I don’t think I really belong as Teacher of the Year, when you consider how everyone else has been able to do such amazing things. I want to recognize a couple people that could never get educator of the year. I want to start with Carrie Frank. Carrie Frank is our Food & Nutrition Director. I’ve been absolutely amazed at what she has been able to do this year. If somehow she was asked to feed our entire school district, she would gather as many spoons and pots as needed and get her staff together, and they’d find the resources and make it happen. She put together an absolutely unbelievable Christmas Dinner. Because Carrie cares about how people feel and you can’t learn when you’re hungry. It just doesn’t work as well. And, she cares about all of our students. She had this gigantic Christmas ham, which I still have some leftovers in our freezer. I swear to God it was at least 24 pounds. And it was really good. Really good. And she had potatoes, she had string beans, she had rolls, she had dessert...she had everything.
I asked her, “Carrie, what do you need help with?” You know what she said?
“Sign up and take some food.”
That’s all she asked. Just take. She is saying, You’re important. Our students are important. We need to eat. It’s all going to be okay. And she was a superhero. It would have been so much easier if we had put on a Covidproof, bulletproof vest and taken all the shots to our emotions and peeled it off and thrown it away when we were done, but that’s not the case, because we are human. Carrie is superhuman.
I’ll tell you who else I really think deserves some recognition because he is superhuman. It is Steve Herrick: Steve, the custodian. Steve is also the most popular person in the whole dang school district. When Steve comes by lunch, the sixth graders chant and pound the tables, “Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve;” because, Steve already gets Social Emotional lLearning. Because he asks kids their name, and then he purposely forgets it and gives them a nickname. My kids have the nicknames “Larry Bird” and “Harvard” because my son is tall and blonde and my daughter wears a Harvard sweatshirt. Because they already had this rapport. He remembers them. He jokes with them. He shares that it’s “Smiling Wednesday.” Steve matters. Steve’s important. Everyone is important. Look around the room: we’re all important.
I want to tell you a story. In fall of 2019, my friend Dan asked me to go skydiving, and skydiving is the type of thing where I’ve always wanted to say I did it, but didn’t really get that excited about falling out of an airplane because that’s pretty scary to me. I’m not afraid of heights, I like roller coasters, I love a good thrill like that, but jumping out of a plane is pretty scary.
But Dan called, so I said, “Let me check the calendar.”
Nothing was on the calendar at home, so I checked with my wife, and she said, “Do it.”
I thought to myself, You know, okay. I guess so.
In the meantime, before I called Dan back, I get a call from Lane Powell, who runs TriState Marching Band Association: it’s all marching band judges that go all over the country. He said, “Ryan, how would you like to judge the Iowa State Marching Band Competitions?”
I said, “Oh, that’d be awesome. What’s the gig pay?”
And he said, “$350.”
Dan had just gotten off the phone with me and said the cost [to skydive] was $350.
So now I had absolutely zero excuse. The calendar is open. I’m going to have the cash in hand. We’re going to go skydiving.
So, we put this on the calendar, a Sunday morning at 10:00. I’m nervous as all heck. Anyway, Skydive Place calls Dan up on Saturday and says, “Hey, we’re overbooked, we’re wondering if we can bump you to another weekend.”
Dan calls me, and I said, “If they can’t get us in, I’m not coming man. I’ve committed, I’ve already lost two nights of sleep, we’re doing this thing.”
So, Dan calls them back and says, “We’ve gotta take this if we’re going to do this.”
They say, “Fine, we’ll get you in.”
Dan picks me up, we drive to the countryside near Baldwin, Wisconsin, and it is a cloud covered but beautiful day. Unfortunately, because of the cloud cover, we couldn’t actually make our 10:00 appointment. So, what was 10:00 becomes 10:30, and so on.
Yet, before you can even sit down and wait for your appointment, they make you sign your life away. And it’s not even just once. It is like fifteen times. All while watching a video on a sketchy little T.V. with a V.C.R. from 1986 playing a video saying, by the way, you might die today, it’s not our fault. So, if you want to sue us, tough nuggets, it ain't happening. You have to sign this form that says, I, so and so, cannot sue you, nor my spouse, nor your next of kin, nor your next of kin’s kin. It’s not our fault because you're going to sign on this line before you get up in the plane.
Then, they say, “Oh, you’ll get a five minute lesson with your tandem partner who's going to be strapped to you as you jump out of the plane.” So, I watch the five minute lesson and they’re saying, “You’ll go over how this strap is here and hang on here and you’ll be up to these thousand feet before you’re screaming,” and I thought to myself, Okay, this is serious.
In my head, I’m trying to calm myself down. I’d watch a Youtube video advertising for this skydiving place with like, a 92 year old grandma whose jumping out and she’s smiling, and her face is peeled back, so her skins in a whole nother time zone, but you can see teeth and she’s having the greatest time of her life, and it’s all in video, and it’s so cool, and all that--yada yada yada--it’s great. So I’m trying to go through that in my head:
Now it’s 11:00...11:30. And I’m watching these people jump out of the sky now who were supposed to be scheduled at 8:00 AM. And they’re so high up you can’t even see them. It’s like nothingness, and then all of a sudden: there’s a dot...then a parachute...then there’s people...and then they’re landing on this gigantic flat football field runway area.
And actually, it’s a really beautiful day. We’re in a lawn chair. But the nerves are not getting better. And they tell you that you can’t be under the influence of alcohol, so you can’t even have a glass of beer or wine as you wait--that’s not a thing. So, you’re just sitting there: waiting.
Finally, 1:00 happens. (Luckily, we did bring snacks.)
Over the intercom they say, “Tendagaphom nah nah nah.” So, that’s our group.
We’re supposed to go, and I get up with Dan, and everybody’s going to meet their tandem partner, and they’re getting their five minute tutorial before you get on the plane, and the plane is sitting there idling.
I’m looking around. I don’t have a partner. And I had some significant questions:
Everyone meets their partner, and someone says, “Oh yeah, your partner’s Ray. He’s coming. He’s alright.”
So, everybody gets in the plane, and I’m standing out there, and the plane is still idling. All of a sudden, Ray comes out--I think he was in the restroom or something--and I kid you not, he looks like he just was ripped to shreds through a couple of pine trees. From the knees down, his pants are all ripped and open. His shoes are hanging open.
He says, “Alright, let’s get in the plane.”
We’re not even attached yet. The only thing I even know is that we’re supposed to be attached to each other before we get on the plane. But, he’s coming in hot, and I haven’t gotten to ask who packs the chute?
Either way, we get on the plane. How cool is this? There’s a sky dive team, they’re right in there. Off to the left, there are rows of tandem partners. I see Dan there smiling. I get in and I’m kind of tall, so I’m trying not to hit my head. We go sit down on a cushion. Someone slams the little--it’s like a garage door--slams it shut and we start to take off. Meanwhile, Ray climbs in behind me (closer to me than I’ve ever been with another man). And he starts strapping the straps over the shoulders and pinching them tight. I’m six feet two inches, about 200 pounds. I swear to God, he’s tightening these things up like I’m about 5’8” and a buck-twenty: he thinks all the blood circulation must be cut off between my legs and my arms.
As we ascend, we see the skydiving team all has matching hats, and stickers, and logos and jackets and colors, and they’re having a great time.
Meanwhile, Ray is whispering in my ear saying, “I don’t know who packed the chute, there’s some guy who’s paid part time to do that.”
Okay, that’s one question I have. “How many times have you done this?”
“Uh, I’ve done this thousands of times.”
Okay. So at least we’ll go that far.
In a couple minutes, they open the garage door again. The skydive team is going to be the first one to get out. We’re up above cloud cover, but they’re going to jump out at a shorter distance and we’ll go higher. The moment that garage door opens up, all the high fiving smiling skydive team people all of a sudden get stone cold sober. Particularly the guy right by the door. You can see that at that moment, he’s completely faced with his own mortality.
Which doesn’t make me feel any better. I thought this was supposed to be fun.
Meanwhile, he turns around, gets right to the edge, and out. Next one. Boom. ** Boom. ** Boom. ** Boom. All of them jump out.
And, because Ray had to pee, that means I’m next. The rest of the people are still in the back.
We climb higher. Higher. And, higher.
Finally, Ray says, “We’re up.”
We’re sitting on this cushion that’s about a foot tall. And I have to walk like a baseball catcher. Or a tortoise that is walking on two legs because I got another man that is 5’8” who is behind me, attached to my back.
I get to the edge. In my head, I’m still trying to go with, remember that old lady, she had such a good time, it’s going to be great, we’re going to fall out, I’ll just put my arms out like this, and we’ll balance out.
But, I’m kind of tall, and the door is not really tall, so Ray says to me, “Uh, can you get a little lower? You’re going to hit your head,” and he puts his hand on my head.
I turn around to say, “I’ll try,” but by the time I got to, “tr-,” the “-y” was screaming out of me as we fell out.
It wasn’t like we jumped out, no, we fell out, because Ray decided to give us a push with his one good leg.
Instead of being like, “ahhh,” -- we were like, “AHHHH.”
And I’ve got clouds ⬆. And the ground ⬇. And clouds ⬆. And the ground ⬇.
And we are spinning.
And I thought to myself, this was not what I intended at all.
And then Ray pulls the drag chute--the first chute--which kind of stabilizes us.
This is exactly where we’re at right now. We just had this [hand gesture of spinning]. This whole year. This is nothing we intended. Nothing like we signed up for. And it’s scary: yes. Horrible: yes.
But, if we can just take a moment and look at the ground right now, because we’re just starting to get out of this pandemic--get out of this difficult year of education. And think about how we’re thankful for Ray. We’re thankful for our Carrie Franks. We’re thankful for our Steve Herricks. We need to look around and say thanks.
Because, for every one Ray we know, for every Carrie and every Steve, for every person we can see, there are a hundred more that we didn’t even know who drove to pick up a kid and bring them to school to get them some help, or an administrator who stayed late to do Covid tracing, or a busy office person who had to figure out how to buy a billion masks from another country. And we have got to say thanks. And we’ve got to take a breath now. We can look. We can open our eyes.
So, I want to say, “Thank you.”
You have done so many amazing things this year that I couldn’t even count them, or imagine them, or recognize them. Thank you, for being awesome. I appreciate what you do.
Now, we get the chance to land on our feet.
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