I remember thinking, as a youth, that I could choose any career I wanted, but I’m pretty sure l never considered that I might not be good at some of them. Such naïveté!
Over the years, I’ve come to learn that there are many, many professions for which I would be ill-suited, and managing a classroom full of young students is one of them. That’s one reason I have enormous admiration and respect for those who excel at K-12 teaching. Quite a few of my friends are (or were) teachers, and I’ve been amazed at their dedication, creativity, and willingness to put in long hours every day (including weekends) in order to give their students the best possible learning experiences.
I was thinking of them as I worked on a coin design for The United States Mint honoring one of America’s most well-known and beloved teachers, Christa McAuliffe. Famously, she was selected from a large group of teachers who applied to be NASA’s first Teacher in Space, and her life—along with that of 6 other astronauts— ended tragically on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff.
As part of my research about her life, I read that Christa McAuliffe believed strongly in experiential learning, so I decided early in the design process that I would show her engaging a group of students in a non-classroom situation. My design, which is on the reverse (tails) side of the coin, shows Christa McAuliffe as a teacher, smiling as she points forward and upward—a direction chosen to symbolize the future. Three high-school-age students look on with wonder. Seven stars above suggest they are outdoors, emphasize McAuliffe’s connection to space exploration, and also represent the seven Challenger astronauts who died. McAuliffe‘s quote “I Touch the Future. I Teach” arcs across the top of the design, illustrating the value she saw in the profession of teaching. Clearly, she recognized and embodied the idea that a great teacher can leave a great legacy. I love that quote, and I can imagine that anyone who embraces the profession of teaching finds it to be meaningful as well.
Surcharges from sales of this coin benefit the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization, which is why their logo appears in the design. FIRST is a not-for-profit science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) engagement program for kids worldwide.
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Emily – How wonderful that you were selected to design the Christa McAuliffe 2021 Silver Dollar. Thanks for sharing the story of your research and planning for the creation of the “tails” side of the coin. I like how you captured her enthusiasm for teaching and students and her message of “I touch the future. I teach.” As a high school teacher at the time of the Challenger’s flight, I had followed Christa McAuliffe’s NASA selection and training with great interest. So glad her inspiration lives on in the naming of many teaching awards — and now in this commemorative coin.
Thanks for your comment, Julie. Christa McAuliffe’s story has touched so many people; it’s quite a legacy.
Emily: Congratulations — the messages inherent in your design are valuable and timely! You’ve made a very important point — that teaching is a high calling and while many of us hope to change the world when we are young, winning a Nobel or a Pulitzer or an Academy Award (which few of us acquire) are only the most public ways that accomplishments are acknowledged. There are many more subtle, much less appreciated endeavors that have a profound (and positive) impact on the future, such as being a good parent or a good teacher. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes (by Peter Altenberg): “I never dreamed of being Shakespeare or Goethe, and I never expected to hold the great mirror of truth up before the world; I dreamed only of being a little pocket mirror, the sort that a woman can carry in her purse; one that reflects small blemishes, and some great beauties, when held close enough to the heart.” Thank you for reminding us that teaching is without a doubt a way to “touch the future.”
Thank you, Scott, both for your thoughtful comment, and for your service as a teacher. I like the quote by Peter Altenberg. 🙂