It is difficult to believe that it has been 30 years since the Challenger disaster. I remember the day well. I was a 12 year old in seventh grade. As was often the case at my school, students in science class were watching the launch of a space shuttle. This launch was especially important since a non-astronaut, teacher Christa McAuliffe, was on board. Her presence made it seem as though any of us could one day head into space. Although I was unable to watch the launch that day, I was still happy as I was enjoying math class. My seventh grade math teacher, who was also my soccer coach, was a skillful and fun educator. His warmth and sincerity were also appreciated, as it was my first year at that school. Midway through class, some fellow classmates entered the room and told us unfortunate news. They had witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. I became numb. I can't even begin to imagine what my classmates who watched this live felt. This hit us hard as a class and as a school community. That day, my math teacher became a major influence on me not only as a student, but also as a person. He taught me a valuable lesson. He said, “Sometimes, there are things more important than math.” Subject work in school is important, but becoming a good citizen and person is even more so. Upon hearing the news, my teacher stopped class and talked to us about this what happened. After giving us an opportunity to decompress in class, he decided to change our homework assignment. He asked us just to write down our feelings about the explosion. Some of us shared those pieces the next day, and we all took a big step toward healing. For me, I began to understand the big picture. My education was not just about good grades, awards, and athletic success. It was about developing character. It was about becoming selfless. These lessons from this teacher were my first steps toward a career in education, a career that has seen me try my best to pay those same lessons forward to the students I was blessed to work with for over two decades.
Although this teacher has long since moved out of New York City, I have luckily been able to see him from time to time at a national conference for independent school educators. I was able to sit down with him and have a drink during one of those conferences and tell him how much that day shaped my life and career. I thanked him for helping me understand that education is much broader than I could have ever imagined. It was an emotional moment for both of us, and I feel lucky to have been able to tell him of his impact. Thank you, Kevin McKone, for helping me cope with this awful disaster and for taking the time to put life in perspective.