Excerpt from ‘What School Could Be’ – National Teachers Hall of Fame

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Emporia, Kansas — As my wife and I crossed Kansas, we spotted a highway sign for the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHoF). I’d heard of it from Gary Koppelman, the fifth-grade science teacher you met in Michigan. Stumbling upon it was a bonus. We exited, poked around, and found the museum and its outstanding executive director, Carol Strickland, a former inductee. Oddly, who should call Carol while I was there? Gary Koppelman.

The NTHoF inducts five new teachers each year after an extensive vetting process. To qualify, you need at least twenty years of classroom teaching experience, and you’ve inspired many students over many years. By museum standards, the NTHoF is tiny. It’s a good-sized room on the Emporia College campus, along with a small chapel on a knoll memorializing teachers who gave their lives protecting their kids, mostly in the face of gun violence. One exhibit featured the T-shirt an inductee gives his science students, with “No Child Left Inside” printed on the front. Carol explained that the shirts reflect how he loves taking his kids outdoors to learn. An alternative explanation? “No Child Left Inside” reflects how NCLB eradicated the inquisitive, joyful child from our students.

We should be grateful that our country has a museum honoring teachers. However, its annual budget is tiny compared to museums honoring athletes or rock stars. The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame gets far more support and traffic. We’re quick in America to express admiration for teachers, but we need to back that up in how we pay, trust, and honor them. If you come here, be sure to spend time on the knoll memorializing fallen teachers, including those at Sandy Hook, who took bullets to save their students. Then ask, “If we trust teachers with the lives of our children, shouldn’t we trust them with a lesson plan?”

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