The Most Noble Profession

“A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

State 35: Kansas - March 26, 2018

Lori

We woke up at a Walmart in Emporia having had an awful night sleep. At 4:30 am, we were jolted awake by the sound of crashing thunder, flashing lightening, torrential rain and large hail bouncing off Rosie. As the hail relentlessly pummeled poor Rosie, I feared the solar panels on the roof were damaged beyond repair, and Rosie was being dented and deformed. The storm continued for 30 nerve racking minutes until finally passing. Both of our hearts were beating out of our chest, and we tossed and turned for another 30 minutes desperately attempting to salvage the few remaining hours of rest. Just as we were both about to drift back into dreamland, we heard an ear piercing screech, “EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Nate literally jumped 3 feet into the air, and I almost peed myself. The screech was followed by, “THIS IS AN ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE. A SEVERE THUNDERSTOM WARNING HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR EMPORIA, PRODUCING PING PONG SIZE HAIL. TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY AND BRING PETS AND TENDER VEGETATION INSIDE”. Nate turned to me and said, “I am sure glad we bought that weather radio, so we know about bad weather in advance.”, and we both burst out laughing!

We survived our first night in Kansas! Mother nature took the opportunity to remind the Cross Country Couple she is still the boss. That was all behind us now, and we could not wait to begin another day of exploration in search of our new home state! For logistical purposes, we try to plan our upcoming stops a minimum of a week in advance. Occasionally, we are unable to find a worthy candidate for a particular category, but more often than not, the category fills itself as we travel through the state. The most memorable example was the famous person we happened to discover in Nevada, which you can read about by clicking here.

Nate

After spending 9 months on the road and 35,000 miles traveled, I have become an expert at ignoring advertisements attempting to lure me off the interstate. As I was driving down the highway enroute to our next scheduled stop, a sign on the side of the highway caught my eye, and something inside of me said, “You need to stop here!”. I have learned to listen to this inner-voice as it has lead me to the most memorable experiences of my cross county journey. Immediately, I took the exit, and set in a course for Emporia State University for the Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction" for Kansas, “The National Teachers Hall of Fame & Memorial to Fallen Educators”.

Founded in 1989, The National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF) is a nonprofit organization honoring exceptional educators, and has a museum at Emporia State University featuring inducted teachers. Each year, a National Selection Committee considers nominations from a pool of certified teachers who have at least 20 years of full-time experience teaching in grades Pre K-12, and five of the nominated teachers are inducted in to the National Teacher's Hall of Fame. Currently, 130 teachers from 37 states and the District of Columbia have been inducted. The NTHF is the only facility of its kind dedicated to recognizing career teachers, to preserving and promoting education, and serving our country by inspiring others to enter the teaching profession.

After parking Rosie, we made our way into a large building located in the heart of Emporia State University. We followed a series of diorama’s displaying the evolution of classrooms over the centuries lining the hallways leading into Teacher's Hall of Fame. Please see the pictures below.

Upon our entry, we were greeted by a gigantic wooden apple, and by Executive Director of the NTHF, Carol Strickland. In addition, Strickland is the 1999 Kansas Teacher of the Year, and an inductee into the 2003 Hall of Fame. Carol spent the next hour telling us all about the NTHF, gave us a guided tour of the museum, and discussed current issues pertaining to the profession of teaching. From teaching the test, to violence in school, nothing was off limits. Carol's passion was evident, her insight was inspirational, and I would have loved to have had her as my teacher.

Each year, the five new inductees are honored with a HOF plaque, displays depicting their accomplishments and descriptions of their contributions to the profession of teaching. The National Teacher Hall of Fame Class of 2017 consists of: Ashli Skura Dreher, Dr. Jonathan Gillentine, Matinga Ragatz, Joseph D. Ruhl and Bob Williams. We spent over an hour learning about each of the aforementioned. Unfortunately, listing the individual accomplishments of these talented and inspirational individuals would turn this blog post into a book. Please see the pictures below of America’s elite educators.

Below are pictures of inductees from previous years.

One of the most interesting displays at the NTHF Museum includes a wall of teaching relics which include: flashcards, overhead projectors, typewriters, hula hoops, bunson burners, chalkboards and so much more. I actually remembered some of these items from my grammar school days, which made me feel old. As you can see, Lori was being naughty during our visit, so I put her in a dunce cap sent her to the corner. Please see the pictures below of our visit to the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

After departing the Teachers Hall of Fame, we drove across campus in Carol’s car to the Dobbs One Room School Museum. Built just outside of Marion, Kansas in 1873, the one room schoolhouse operated for 78 years until 1952. After closing, the building was donated to Emporia State University, and was disassembled and moved stone by stone to its current location on the college campus. In 1969, reconstruction of the schoolhouse was complete, and the building still stands as a museum and memorial to pioneer education in Kansas.

On our cross country journey, we have encountered a handful of one room schoolhouses. However, most are small wooden shacks having clearly seen better days. The 19th century schoolhouse at ESU was the first stone one room schoolhouse we have come across, and the building’s interior contained period appropriate furnishings. The most noteworthy relic was an American Flag containing the appropriate number of stars coinciding with the schoolhouses 1873 construction. Best of all, Carol let me pull the rope to ring the school bell, which actually took quite a bit of oomph! Please see the pictures below of the most historically accurate one room schoolhouse you will ever see.

After departing the 19th century stone schoolhouse, Carol led us down a nearby sidewalk to the Memorial for Fallen Educators. In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF) sought to create a memorial to pay tribute to the six murdered educators, but soon discovered there was no monument commemorating any of our nation’s fallen teachers. NTHF reached out to the US Department of Education in Washington D.C to acquire a list of those who had died practicing their profession, and were shocked to discover no such list existed! Thus began the long, tedious, and painful process of reaching back into history to resurrect the stories of the fallen.

What began as an idea to commemorate the six fallen Sandy Hook educators, evolved into a list of over 120 teachers, counselors, bus drivers, administrators, para-educators, and other support personnel from 36 states who lost their lives in our nation’s schools. The NTHF partnered with Emporia State University to create a monument to educators who literally “gave their all” for their profession. Fundraising efforts began in earnest. In just two years, the memorial was designed, purchased, built, and dedicated in July of 2014.

Before me stood two 6×6-foot black granite books engraved with the names, date of death, and home state for each of the 120 fallen educators. Across from the memorials were two black granite contemplation benches depicting the most iconic symbolism of teaching; the apple. The 19th century stone schoolhouse perched on top a nearby hill serves as the memorial’s backdrop. To the right of the monument is a digital kiosk displaying the stories of each of the fallen educators. As we stood before the monument reading the names of the educators who lost their lives, a gentle rain fell from an overcast Kansas sky as if the heavens were weeping. I would like to take this opportunity to share the stories of a few of the fallen.

The earliest name on the monument predates the founding of our country. Enoch Brown was a Schoolmaster teaching in a log cabin in the area now known as a Pennsylvania. During Pontiac’s War on July 26, 1764, Brown’s schoolhouse was raided by three Native American warriors. Despite pleading for the lives of the students, Brown and nine of his pupils were killed.

Though Kansas is home to the Memorial for Fallen Educators, the state is not immune from such tragic loss. A suburb 12 miles West of Wichita, Goddard is home to 1,400 residents, and represents the type of town where folks move to escape urban plight. On Monday, January 21, 1985, a troubled 14 year old student entered the Goddard Junior High armed with a rifle. The student wounded two teachers, one student, and killed the school Principal and father of four; Jim McGee.

Junior High School Teacher Christa McAuliffe from Concord, New Hampshire is probably the most recognized name on the memorial. McAuliffe was selected as NASA's first Teacher in Space in 1985 beating out over 11,500 applicants. McAuliffe was a civilian mission specialist aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle, and scheduled to teach two lessons to her students from space. On January 28, 1986, millions of children watched the televised launch from their classrooms in horror after Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff killing McAuliffe and seven other crew members. In 2004, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

As a former Connecticut resident, I was regretfully familiar with the names of the educators who were murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: Rachel D'Avino, 29, teacher's aide, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Principal Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher's aide, Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher, Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist, and Victoria Leigh Soto, 27. The educators are pictured below in the order in which they were described.

President Obama has stated the day he traveled to Sandy Hook to address the community was the worst day of his presidency, and said, “It’s the only time I ever saw Secret Service cry at an event”. All six of the murdered teachers were posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for having performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens.

The most recent educator whose name is engraved on the monument is Angelica Beard. On March 23rd, 2017, the boys and girls track team from Mt. Pleasant, TX were traveling back to their high school after a meet. Assistant Track Coach; Angelica Beard was driving back to the high school after the meet in her personal car behind the school bus carrying the boys track team. All of a sudden, the driver of an 18 wheeler high on meth crossed the highway median directly into the path of the school bus carrying the boys high school track team. At the last second, the bus driver swerved out of the way. Tragically, 30-year-old Assistant Track Coach and mother of twins; Angelica Beard was hit head on by the 18-wheeler, and died at the scene.

I noticed the names of the teachers who were killed in Parkland, Florida were missing from the monument, and Carol then told us the names are only added once a year. On February 14, 2018 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, a mass school shooting claimed the lives of three teachers. Geography Teacher Scott Beigel was killed after he unlocked a classroom for students to enter and hide from the gunman. Assistant Football Coach Aaron Feis, was killed as he shielded two students. The school's Athletic Director; Chris Hixon was killed as he ran toward the gunfire to help fleeing student’s escapes. The teachers are pictured below in the order in which they were described.

Then I made a very disturbing observation. The 2nd granite book monument is nearly full with names, and with three teachers already lost so early in 2018, a 3rd monument may soon need to be erected.

For over 2 years, the NTHF has sought national designation for the Memorial for Fallen Educators, which by law requires congressional and presidential approval. Congressman Roger Marshall of Kansas; 1st District in the US House, and Kansas Senator Jerry Moran in the US Senate, have sponsored the National Memorial to Fallen Educators Act. The Bill proposes the existing memorial located at the National Teacher's Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas be designated as the "National Memorial to Fallen Educators”. The memorial will not be a unit of the National Park System, and its designation shall not require or allow federal funds to be expended for any purpose related to it. The legislation carries no cost to the tax payers, and the memorial will continue to be owned and maintained by the National Teachers Hall of Fame and Emporia State University.

In December 2017, the Bill passed the US Senate, and in April 2018, it passed the US House. Now, the National Memorial to Fallen Educators Act heads to the desk of Donald Trump. With a stroke of a presidential pen, the Kansas memorial will officially become the National Memorial to Fallen Educators. A re-dedication ceremony is scheduled for June 21, 2017. Additional stories of fallen educators can be found at www.nthfmemorial.org .

Police chase criminals! US Soldiers fight for our freedom! Firemen run into burning buildings! Those who choose the aforementioned professions do so with the understanding they may need to lay down their lives in the defense of others. Teachers take no such oath! Teachers pledge to educate! It remains impossible to quantify the loss of a single teacher. Each name etched in stone represents an infinite number of students whose lives will remain untouched. Therefore, we all mourn not merely the loss of single life, but the unknown impact that loss of life would have had on the world. Since all professions are a result of education, teaching has been called the most noble profession. Therefore, we are all forever indebted to educators who lost their lives while practicing their profession. With the establishment of the National Monument for Fallen Educators in Emporia, America long at last has a place to go to reflect and remember.

After departing the Teachers Hall of Fame, we drove 85 miles Northeast to Lawrence where we found a Walmart to spend the night.