Some years ago — probably more than 10 now that I think of it — I was eating my lunch at a MassCUE conference when Grace Corrigan sat down with her tray. That name may or may not mean anything to some, but it was an exceptional thrill for me to sit and chat, however briefly with the mother one of my education heroes, Christa McAuliffe.
Sharon Christa McAuliffe may have faded from some memories, but not from mine. When the Challenger explosion happened, I was in the midst of my career rebirth — the M.Ed. program at University of Lowell — and my own child was a first grader. I still think of the day Challenger burst into flames to the horror of everyone watching and I’m willing to bet that any child who happened to be watching the event on the television that day, certainly can recall it vividly.
While I did not know Christa McAuliffe personally, her choice to train to be the first teacher in space, was a huge impact on me. For me, teaching is not about following what is expected. It is about learning to take chances, to try new things, to have a curiosity about life and parlaying those opportunities into moments of educational euphoria. It is not about the safety of doing what we’ve gotten used to; it is being on the edge of disaster or success and not necessarily knowing how things turn out until much later. And for me, that is what Christa McAuliffe inspired in me on day she boarded a space shuttle for what should have been the adventure of a lifetime.
So many years later, I try to remember this when experts tell me to be successful I need to do this, that or the other thing. Education, even in the era of unprecedented scrutiny where taking chances on what might work seems tougher and tougher to do, needs to be about trying new things even while being mindful of standards and accountability.
Christa McAuliffe’s mission ended in a tragedy that those of us on the sidelines can barely appreciate. The loss to her family, her friends, her colleagues, her students had to be immeasurable. But her courage, her insatiable curiosity inspires me to keep on taking chances no matter what the odds.