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.