“I touch the future. I teach.”–Christa McAuliffe

I may be dating myself here, but I think the matter merits my admission. Just keep in mind that I was a college freshman at the time.

I’d just gotten back from one of the more annoying college classes I have taken in three degrees’ worth of work. When I got to the dorm room my roommate, Bill, said, “You gotta see this.” He was notorious for skipping class, but this time it made sense.

The Challenger space shuttle had exploded 37 seconds after it had launched. Seven astronauts were killed almost instantly. The 25th anniversary of that disaster will be tomorrow, January 28.

 Among those killed was the woman who was to be the first teacher in space: Christa McAuliffe. After a long, intense competition she had been chosen to represent the education world’s ties with NASA. She was also an NEA member.

Here’s something you may not have known: even on the day before the launch, Ms. McAuliffe sat in the crew quarters writing college recommendations for her students. She was first and foremost a teacher, even the day before she made history. She must have been terrified of the task at hand. It still didn’t stop her from thinking of her students.

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association and a former high school math teacher, also believes that Ms. McAuliffe played a significant role in opening doors in math and science education for women.

When you think of the time, that’s when we really started real efforts to knock down stereotypes that math and science were for boys and not girls. She was held up as someone who could elevate the profession, which she did so well.

Barbara Morgan, the Boise, Idaho, teacher who had been selected as Ms. McAuliffe’s backup and also trained with the Challenger astronauts, became the first Teacher in Space in 2007. Like McAuliffe, she was an NEA member. You can read about her in the cover story of our Spring 2007 Advocate. She put it this way:

Christa served as a great reminder to everybody that the key to education is good teachers, and that we had and have good teachers all over this country.

Dan Barstow, the president of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, also gave a quote to mark the anniversary.

 There’s a generation of teachers who were around and teaching at the time of the Challenger accident. For us, clearly, she was such an exceptional teacher, such an inspiring astronaut and educator. We still remember her and feel that. It was such a deep-searing moment in the nation’s soul, and we have an obligation to carry on that mission, that legacy, to inspire kids.

A day to remember in education. Touch the future today. Teach.


About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

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