Science educator named to join National Teachers Hall of Fame

04/01/2014 5:35 PM

04/01/2014 5:35 PM

Jan Alderson told Principal Joe Gilhaus she didn’t want a ceremony if she was chosen for one of her profession’s highest honors.

But when one of your staff members is named to the National Teachers Hall of Fame, it’s hard to hide that light under a bushel.

And so on Thursday, Alderson was surprised when she was called up before an assembly in the Shawnee Mission South High School gymnasium and recognized by Tes Mehring, a board member of the Emporia-based National Teachers Hall of Fame, one of five 2014 inductees.

The honors biology and human anatomy/physiology teacher became just the ninth Kansas educator to be so honored in the hall’s 22-year history.

Also named to the Hall of Fame this year was Cynthia Couchman, a high school math teacher in Buhler, Kan.

Alderson began teaching science 45 years ago in the Raytown School District. When she retired after 31 years in Raytown, the Shawnee Mission district came calling.

“I though I had reached biology-teacher heaven,” Alderson said. “We have the 23-acre SMESL (Shawnee Mission Environmental Science Laboratory), with Indian Creek flowing through it to do water testing and invertebrate testing. There is a supportive district, in terms of doing research and a supportive administration with Dr. Gilhaus. I’ve had a ball the last 14 years.”

“There are no signs of her slowing down,” Gilhaus said. “I have never seen her have a bad day. She is always energetic.”

Befitting a Hall of Fame teacher, Alderson is a “a consummate professional,” Gilhaus said.

“She builds outstanding relationships with the kids,” he continued. “She is always present in this building. She is not a 40-hour-a-week employee. She is here evenings and weekends. She always wants what is best for the kids.”

Alderson has received numerous other teaching awards throughout her career. She was a finalist in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Teacher in Space Program that ended after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, killing teacher Christa McAuliffe and the six others on board.

Mehring called Alderson “an absolute gem,” worthy of induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

“There are halls of fame for baseball, for greyhounds, for rock ’n’ roll,” Mehring said. “The Teachers Hall of Fame is the only institution that recognizes individuals who have such an important role in society. It’s just a pat on the back to individuals who often sacrifice a tremendous amount, including money from their own pockets to buy materials. The very future of our country rests on the dedication and quality of our teachers.”

Ben Bernard, an SMS senior who was crowned king of the school’s Heritage Royalty court — an honor society — during the same assembly, spoke of the “big impact” Alderson has made on his life as his instructor.

“She totally deserves the honor for a job well done,” Bernard said.

Mark Hoffman, who now holds a doctorate in bacteriology and who serves on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, studied under Alderson during the 1980s at Raytown South High School, and he attended the assembly. He called Alderson inspirational and said she had influenced his career, which included a long stint at Cerner Corp.

“We don’t thank our teachers often enough,” Hoffman said.

The National Teachers Hall of Fame was established in 1992 and has its home on the campus of Emporia State University.

Alderson becomes the sixth Kansas City area educator among its 115 inductees. The others, along with their school district(s) and the year in which they were inducted, are Darryl Johnson (Smithville, Mo., 2013), Beth Vernon (Blue Springs, 2013), Kenneth Bingman (Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Kansas City, Kan., 2009), Lisa Crooks (Olathe, 2002), and Ronald Poplau (Shawnee Mission, 1999).

Alderson will be formally inducted during ceremonies in May in Washington, D.C., and in June in Emporia.

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