Do you remember where you were on January 28th, 1986 between 11:30 and 11:45 am? I do! I was in chemistry class. I remember that day and time precisely because I was actually excited about science and math during that time of my life. That day I was in Mrs. Hart's chemistry class and we were listening to the Challenger shuttle launch over the radio. At that time in my life, age 15, I wanted to go to the Naval Academy just so I could be an astronaut. I remembered that day this morning when I opened up my web browser and there was rare home video footage posted of the Challenger explosion. That morning my teacher cried in class.
I too have cried in class. The first time that it happened was while doing shared reading of It Happened to Nancy. If you haven't read it, it is about a girl who is date raped, contracts AIDS and dies. Maybe a little too simply put, but sad stuff, nonetheless. I read it to my freshman students who were also second language learners. They cried too, even the boys. They may have not understood all the words, but they understood the pain that we felt. We all grieved for Nancy that day.
That was the first time that happened, it was in 1996 during the 3rd year of my teaching career. I was afraid to cry, but we were moved that day. A good book does that to a reader. Now in my 17th year of teaching, as we read our book, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, I am preparing myself for the inevitable tearing up that this book brings.
I don't think that classrooms should just be filled with the sad stuff, but when your classroom is, I think it is okay to show a reasonable human response to life and death. I recently got to see Mrs. Hart over Christmas break and thank her for being a phenomenal teacher who made chemistry and calculus engaging, relevant, and comprehensible to me, even before teachers knew they were supposed to do that. I didn't grow be an astronaut. I didn't grow up to be a scientist. I did grow up to be a teacher and hopefully as she did, inspire my students to new heights as she has for the past 50 years.