Former astronaut credits teachers with having ‘power to change a life’

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Retired astronaut Clay Anderson spoke to San Antonio Independent School District teachers at the “Out in Space, Down to Earth” STEM Conference March 3 at the Scobee Education Center. Anderson gave teachers advice on how to encourage students to follow their dreams. A book signing of his children’s book “A is for Astronaut,” followed the lecture. Deandra Gonzalez

Clay Anderson advocates teamwork to raise the performance of all students.

By Thomas Macias

Author and retired astronaut Clayton “Clay” Anderson told teachers at the 24th annual STEM Educator Conference, “Out in Space, Down to Earth,” March 3 at Scobee Education Center that their challenge is to “change a life.”

Anderson, a two-tour veteran of the International Space Station and a crew member on Space Shuttle Mission 131, made his remarks to a capacity 100-person audience predominantly of teachers. 

In a presentation titled “Turning Pages into Dreams,” Anderson stressed the opportunity teachers have to influence extraordinary outcomes from students.

In acknowledging the challenges teachers face, Anderson said, “I know that it’s hard. I know how you toil. I know that you don’t make a lot of money. I get all that, but you’re here because you love kids. You love to teach. You want to inspire.

“I’m an astronaut, big deal. You’re teachers. We both are the same. We have the chance to change lives every single day,” Anderson said.

Anderson said there are four ways instructors could help to propel students — give them a  dream, help students persevere, point out they don’t have to be a genius to succeed and encourage them to be proud of their cultural heritage and “who they are.”

Anderson advocated for teamwork between students and teachers, saying together they could raise the performance level of all students.

Using a bell curve analogy where students are grouped into percentage categories based on their performance, Anderson said, “You grab those kids on the left side (the lower segment of a bell curve) and you work to get them to the center. You take the ones on the right to help the ones on the left.”

Anderson said teachers could form greater connections by participating in students’ areas of interests and by relating to them on their level. 

Teachers can do this aby attending student events, such as a basketball game, music recital or choir performance, and praising students afterwards.

“Find a way to reach that kid’s hot button,” Anderson said.

Anderson said students should be encouraged to participate in a wide variety of activities.

“It’s not STEM, it’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). I want kids that are well-rounded. I want kids that are exposed to many things because I believe they make better citizens indeed,” Anderson said.

Corbin Mendoza, a fifth grade student at Martin Elementary School, said he liked Anderson’s message to take chances and to try again if a person fails.

Corbin’s classmate, Mariana Saldaña said her favorite part was Anderson’s message to always be yourself.

“Taking an interest in your students” and “You don’t have to be a genius; Everyone can be an astronaut,” is what Rubi Dehoyos, Martin Elementary science lead, said were her two take-aways from Anderson’s presentation.

Angela Grivich, an eighth grade science teacher at Medina Valley Middle School in Castroville, said Anderson’s presentation was helpful in keeping student interest in the U.S. space program.

Grivich said as space shuttle launches are no longer regularly broadcast on television, she has turned to movies such as “The Martian” to fill this void with students. 

In an interview after his presentation, Anderson said the “turning pages” phrase in the title alludes to his love for reading he developed as a child.

These included Hardy Boys mystery novels and comic books.

Anderson said he loved the “process” of holding a book in his hand and turning pages.

“Turning pages” became a metaphor on how reading can be turned into dreams, Anderson said.

Anderson said children’s books he has written such as “A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet” are part of an effort at outreach.

Anderson said children tend to look at astronauts and think of them as geniuses.

 “I’m not,” Anderson said. “I’m just an ordinary person who tried to be above-average as often as possible.”


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