Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where were you on January 28th, 1986?

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. 


  1. What a thought proviking post. Those defining moments of life seem to be moments of extreme sadness. I will always define my life by the very sad times when President Kennedy was assasinated, the Challenger exploded and 9-11-11...while my role in each very sad moment of time was very different, they punctuate my life. There are happy times that punctuate my life too such as the births of my children!

  2. The Challenger was my very first "history" moment. You know the one that you'll always remember the "where were you?"

    I still get shivers every time I think of it, and that moment is on my list of possible slices. I was in 8th grade, and the poem I wrote in tribute ended up part of our 8th grade graduation ceremony. To this day (well, to the end of the shuttle program) I had trouble watching a launch without holding my breath.

  3. Great Challenger picture--the color and the crows--nice contrasts. I like how you wove the historical moment with teacher praise and sharing emotions and reading in class. Such a tapestry in this post!

  4. Gosh, I had not thought about that moment in a long time...I was in my freshman year of college and was driving out of the campus listening on the radio to the launch when the announcers went crazy. It was horrible being by myself and thinking of all in the challenger! I love your slice and how you ended with thanking your teacher..thanks for taking me back and helping me think about those who inspired me to teach.

  5. I was only 2 years old then, but I was a senior in high school during 9/11 and that day is frozen crystal-clear in my mind. I also loved the ending, especially your line about how you didn't grow up to be an astronaut or scientist, but a teacher. Very powerful!


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