Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Honor Teachers: The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

I spent today at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, and I have the great privilege of going back for the next two days. I learned a lot today, actually (about digital portfolios--ways to organize student work in a paperless fashion easily accessible to both students and staff--and different classroom possibilities, including Twitter (which I already had), Skype (which I now have but am not comfortable enough using it to post a link here), and Voice Thread), and I'm very excited about the next two days. Professionally, it's very exciting to be part of such cutting edge potential (my friend and co-worker John wrote a grant, so we're able to attend this conference and buy some really advanced software and such for our little school--amazing opportunity!).

What I couldn't stop thinking about, though, was the extraordinary lady for whom the conference was named, Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space. A social studies teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, she was chosen from thousands of applicants to be part of NASA's "Teacher in Space" initiative. McAuliffe died when the Challenger exploded seconds after takeoff on January 28, 1985. She never got to teach the lessons she had planned to conduct from outer space, never had the opportunity to touch the stars literally ... although there is no question she touched them figuratively.

This is true of her teaching experience before she famously said, "I touch the future. I teach." For many, many children, their teachers spend more time with them than their parents do. In this day and age, educators are responsible for things way beyond the scope of their content area--manners, for example, and a sense of responsibility. Perhaps most importantly, though, teachers are a voice of motivation, a "You can do this. I believe in you!" that many students around this country have little sense of. Christa McAuliffe epitomized this; according to The New York Post, she had a strong focus on the difference ordinary, everyday people can make, stating, "They are as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals."

When I wrote my Master's thesis, I talked about Jesus Christ and Socrates being referred to as "teacher" and how I felt a true and passionate calling to the noblest profession. I can't believe I left out Christa McAuliffe; I've lived in New Hampshire my entire life, after all, and one of my strongest memories is watching my fourth grade teacher break down in tears when the Challenger exploded.

It occurred to me at the conference today that, never mind that I was eight years old when she passed away, Christa McAuliffe is my colleague. She could have been there today in the conference center overflowing with educators striving to find innovative ways to raise the bar for their students. It made me feel very small, but I also felt a great pride.

After all, "I touch the future. I teach."