I was in 6th grade at Rose Tree Elementary School in Media, Pennsylvania, in October of 1957 when Sputnik was launched. When our class heard the beep-beep-beep of its telemetry when it passed overhead, the Cold War seemed very warm indeed. This wake-up call for our nation was taken to heart by one special teacher of mine, and I thank her for changing the course of my life!
None of my family members in my parents generation had gone to college. So, while my parents were certainly considering college for me, it was Mrs. Ruth Kennedy who took any other option off the table.
One afternoon that October, Mrs. Kennedy kept me after school for a “talk.” That was easy to do since I was a walker. She didn’t offer any options or, for that matter, any suggestions. She simply outlined for me what I was to do:
- Go to college and study math and science.
- Go to graduate school to get a PhD (I had never heard of that).
- Become a professor to do research and teach others to do the same.
There really wasn’t any discussion; she made her presentation and I listened. It never occurred to me not do what she said. I don’t think that I ever knew someone who didn’t do what Mrs. Kennedy said.
After I graduated from college with a degree in math and taught high school for three years, I realized that I had not finished her agenda. What was this “graduate school” thing? By then, teaching in a public school had cured me of finishing a PhD in math; I needed to be much more closely connected to the real world and real people. (Sorry, but mathematicians often don’t fit that description.) But Mrs. Kennedy’s instructions were still firmly in mind. I loved the ocean and figured that my mathematics would be useful in studying it so I ended up as a professor of oceanography.
Mrs. Kennedy’s instruction didn’t go beyond that—except her advice to do something that was fun (math and science) and do something that was worthwhile (which she never defined). That was left as an exercise for the student.
Thank you, Mrs. Kennedy. All of the truly fun and worthwhile jobs that I’ve experienced go right back to you and your belief in me. And now I’ve gone full circle and get to work with science teachers. And so I say thank you to all science teachers, and I hope our work at NSTA gives you the inspiration you need to pursue your dreams as well.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.