Teaching Profession

Challenger’s Legacy: Many of Christa McAuliffe’s Students Are Now Teachers

By Ross Brenneman — January 28, 2016 1 min read
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Thirty years ago today, the Challenger shuttle explosion took the life of educator Christa McAuliffe, a Concord, N.H., high school social studies teacher who had inspired the nation as the person chosen to be the first U.S. civilian in space.

Her students had watched the event that day, like students everywhere. But even as they mourned their teacher, they also would end up using McAuliffe as inspiration in their own careers. Many of them have become teachers themselves, and continue to see her as a model, the Associated Press reports:

'I try to be very mindful,' says Joanne Walton, who teaches grades four through six in Fairfax, Virginia. She says she sometimes goes through a 'What would Christa do?' mantra in her teaching. 'She knew that teaching was way more than just imparting information and that it was really important to know students,' Walton says.

Both of McAuliffe’s children are now teachers as well.

The Obama administration ended NASA’s manned space shuttle program in 2011; as my colleague Jackie Zubrzycki writes, human spaceflight in America is, for now, under the purview of the private sector.

Those who knew McAuliffe are working to preserve her memory as the Challenger incident, and even the era of space travel it was a part of, fade from the nation’s memory.

Members of the Concord High School class of 1986 have organized a petition to the White House to have a national holiday named for McAuliffe and the rest of the Challenger crew. The goal was to reach 100,000 signatures by Jan. 29. As of this posting, the petition had fewer than 500 signatures.

Her former students who have become teachers also want to preserve her legacy among their own students, per the AP:

Scott Reynolds, a 1987 alumnus who teaches science at the elite St. Paul's School in Concord, conducts a field trip to a local cemetery with his students for one course. The students, from all over the world, get demographic data from the gravesites and make a spreadsheet linking people's deaths to wars and diseases. When they're done, they drive by Christa McAuliffe's gravestone, and he asks if they know who she was. 'There's always one kid who knows,' he says. 'I can't say I'm depressed. It's 30 years. It's completely understandable that they don't remember this. I'm more enlightened by the fact that there's always somebody who knows who she was.'

Image: Click to see Education Week’s coverage of the Challenger incident.

More on Christa McAuliffe:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.