Reaching for the stars

Published 8:22 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teachers have so many different jobs that it must be hard to keep them all straight from one hour of the day to the next. One moment, they’re called to teach basic manners, and another they’re mediating between clashing students. One moment they’re teaching algebra or English or social studies and the next they find themselves confidants for troubled teenagers. And in the midst of all these secondary roles, they have to find time to impart knowledge — and a love for its gain — to a group of students with a wide range of abilities and interests.

Perhaps the most important job they have, though, is to inspire their young charges. Good teachers show their students why education is important, how the things they learn will matter in life. They help children see the world through new eyes and give them reason to look at that world with hope for their future.

Three teachers at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School serve as perfect examples of putting the theory of inspiration into practice. They recently returned from Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they took part in a NASA-sponsored program designed to give kindergarten through 12th-grade educators the opportunity to propose, build and fly reduced-gravity experiments. They did so in a special aircraft that flew parabolas over the Gulf of Mexico, giving passengers 20-second bursts of micro-gravity.

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Mack Benn was one of just 14 NASA Explorer Schools from around the nation chosen to participate in the program and one of the few elementary schools that took part. Megan Farabaugh, Elizabeth Petry and Catherine Pichon represented the school in Houston, and their experiment, conducted on the aircraft and beamed to the students live on video, gave the young students at Mack Benn a chance to feel almost as if they were along for the ride.

Many of these children’s parents will remember watching astronauts walk on the moon and deciding to become astronauts themselves because of the inspiration they found in those moments. And while the vast majority of those who had that childhood dream did not pursue it, the simple fact of finding inspiration in someone else’s achievements served to lift up an entire generation.

In a similar fashion, Mack Benn’s “astronaut educators” provided a shining example to their young students of the great possibilities available in life. Bringing their students along via video, the three teachers encouraged them to reach for the stars. And that’s exactly what good teachers do.