by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

President Obama’s State of the Union address and the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy both were reminders of the importance of education and key role of teachers in having quality education.

If you heard the State of the Union address, you know that one of President Obama’s major themes was the importance of education. That was one section of his speech that received the most line-for-line applause and from both parties. Here’s a section of the transcript of his speech from NPR’s website:

“Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’┬áHere in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. (Applause.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. (Applause.) And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. (Applause.)”

I imagine many of us were applauding (at least mentally), too, as we thought about our own teaching careers and our work with the JEA Mentoring Program. We are working to help prepare those new teachers who are teaching journalism with the critical thinking skills, writing/speaking/listening skills, problem-solving, technology use, and understanding of democracy that is involved.

This week also marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy. I can remember where I was when the Challenger exploded, and I imagine many of you can, too. I was teaching high school English and journalism in Tennessee in 1986 and just happened to be sick and at home that day. I was watching the live shuttle launch on TV and had followed Christa McAuliffe’s process of becoming the first teacher in space.

Her memorable statement –“I touch the future. I teach.” — certainly is true, as hundreds of teachers and thoustands of students know of McAuliffe and have benefitted from programs that promote dynamic teaching and hands-on learning.

We are teaching journalism and not science, but we have the same enthusiasm for our subject and promote classroom learning that involves active student engagement.

Challenger astronaut Ron McNair’s legacy also is to promote education. The US Department of Education established the McNair Scholars Program in 1989 that encourages undergraduate students in underrepresented population groups to purse graduate degrees. Right now, I am working with a UF sudent who is applying to be a McNair Scholar.

Promoting the value of education and the need to work now for successful teaching are important goals — ours and the nation’s.