Chalkboard Champion Geraldine Claudette Darden: The Rising Star of Mathematics

darden_geraldine[1]Many extraordinary educators make a mark in areas other than teaching. This is certainly the case with junior high school math teacher Geraldine Claudette Darden, who became the 14th African American in the country to earn a doctorate in mathematics.

Geraldine was born on July 22, 1936, in Nansemond County, Virginia. She attended the segregated Black public schools of her county, and by all accounts was a very good student. After high school graduation, she enrolled at the Hampton Institute, a historically African-American institution of higher learning, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1957 and her master’s degree in 1960. She also earned a master’s degree from University of Illinois at Ubana, Champaign, and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University. This amazing educator was the 14th African American in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Geraldine accepted her first teaching position at S.H. Clarke Junior High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1957. In the summer of 1958, she saw a unique opportunity for aspiring mathematicians when the Russians launched the satelllite Sputnik, an event that spurred a national interest in mathematics and science. She applied for and received a National Science Foundation grant to attend the Summer Institute in Mathematics held at North Carolina Central University. There she met Marjorie Lee Browne, the mathematician who directed the Institute, who encouraged Geraldine to go on to graduate school at Syracuse.

After earning her degrees, Geraldine became strongly interested in mathematics education at the high school and college level. So, in addition to teaching, this chalkboard champion co-wrote selected papers on pre-calculus with acclaimed textbook authors Tom Apostol, Gulbank D. Chakerian, and John D. Neff.

Geradline Claudette Darden: A true chalkboard champion.

Chalkboard Champion and Political Activist Nancy Cook

er_cook_nps1206[1]Many remarkable teachers blend their interests in teaching with an interest in politics. Such is certainly the case with Nancy Cook, a high school vocational education teacher who was also a tireless worker for women’s suffrage and other political causes dear to her heart.

Nancy was born in Massena, New York, on August 26, 1884. After her graduation from high school, she attended Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1912. There she became an avid supporter of woman’s suffrage and campaigned for legislation to protect women, to abolish child labor, and to secure world peace.

After her graduation from college, Nancy accepted her first teaching position in Fulton, New York, where she taught art and handicrafts to high school students from 1913 to 1918. It was here that she ran into fellow Syracuse classmate Marion Dickerman, who was also a teacher of arts and handicrafts at the school. These two women become lifelong partners, spending almost their entire adult lives together.

During World War I, Nancy and Marion became active doing volunteer work for the Liberty Loan Drive and the Red Cross. As Marion remarked after the war, they both “really believed this was a war to end wars and make the world safe for democracy.” In 1918, Nancy and Marion traveled to London, England, to work in the Endell Street Military Hospital., a facility staffed entirely by women. There they scrubbed floors and performed whatever other chores were needed. Nancy would, with less than two weeks of training, begin to make artificial limbs for veterans that had lost an arm or a leg in the conflict.

Women earned the right to vote while Nancy and Marion were abroad. Upon their return to the United States, Nancy accepted a job as the executive secretary of the Women’s Division of the State Democratic Committee, a position she held for nineteen years. She was key to the gubernatorial and presidential campaigns of Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1927, Nancy, Marion, and Eleanor Roosevelt purchased a small, private school for girls in New York City they called the Todhunter School. The school provided primary and secondary education, emphasizing art, music, and drama, as well as a college preparatory curriculum. Todhunter combined traditional testing and grading standards with progressive teaching methods.

Nancy and Marion were very good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. Together, the three women built Stone Cottage at Val-Kill, on the banks of FallKill Creek in Dutchess County, New York. Nancy and Marion lived there full-time, and Eleanor often visited. Nancy, who was an expert woodworker, made all the furniture for the home. The trio established Val-Kill Industries with the goal of producing fine hand-made heirloom furniture/. More importantly, by doing so, they were acting on a larger social goal of providing a second income to local farming people in rural Hyde Park in order to keep them from migrating away to city jobs.

When Eleanor Roosevelt committed herself to redeveloping Arthurdale, West Virginia, she asked Nancy to work with the subsistence homestead program. Nancy and the First Lady oversaw the interior needs of each Arthurdale house, while Nancy temporarily administered the furniture and woodworking projects of Arthurdale’s Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative Association.

Nancy Cook, chalkboard champion and suffragist, passed away on August 16, 1962.

Chet Blaylock of Montana: Chalkboard Champion, State Senator, and WWII Veteran

TeacherAppleTN1[1]Many talented educators have also made a name for themselves in the political arena. Such is certainly the case for Chester Merle Blalock, better known as Chet Blaylock, a history teacher and state senator from Montana.

Chet was born on Novembr 13, 1924, in Joliet, Montana. He served his country well as a member of the US Navy during World War II. After the war, this heroic veteran earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1951 and his master’s degree in education in 1957, both from the University of Montana. He then worked as a teacher and school administrator for over thirty years, until his retirement in 1991.

During his long career in education, Chet served as a delegate to the Montana State Constitutional Convention in 1972, and as a member of the Montana State Senate from Laurel, Montana. In 1996, he became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Montana against incumbent Marc Racicot. Unfortunately, on October 23, 1996, on his way to a debate with his opponent less than two weeks before the election, the former educator passed away of a heart attack at Deer Lodge, Montana. He was cremated and his ashes interred at Rockvale Cemetery in Rockvale, Montana.

Malala Yousafzi: The Pakistani Teenager Who Became a Champion for Education

51uM9RrdTFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Most people in Western cultures have heard of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager from Pakistan who was targeted by the Taliban simply for claiming that education for girls is a human right. She’s recently published an autobiography detailing her life in Pakistan under the Taliban, her struggles to advance the cause of education for girls, the attack that nearly took her life, and her road to recovery. The book is a riveting testimonial of the resiliance of this remarkable young woman.

Like many memoirs of this kind, Malala begins with a description of her life before the Taliban took control of her native valley of Swat, focusing on family, home life, and school. She details how the region’s political and social unrest impacted the lives of everyone in her community. Without the dryness of a history book, the volume presents a brief history of Pakistan, emphasizing how precarious life is for everyone who lives there, especially women, and the men who advocate for them. She includes a discussion of familiar current events, such as the devastating 7.2 earthquake in October of 2008, the 9/11 attacks, the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and the removal of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Throughout the narrative, Malala maintains a clear, determined, but humble voice insisting that all children, boys and girls, have the right to be educated. And that’s why the Taliban targeted her for assassination.

Malala is not a teacher, but she certainly is a champion for education. Her valiant campaign, despite the dangers, on behalf of equal education for girls presents a lesson in courage for us all.

The book, entitled I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, was published 2013 in New York by Little, Brown and Company. It is easily available at Barnes and Noble or on

Bill Thieben: High School History Teacher, Principal, and NBA Star

OBJIUUEQDENVLZF.20090408171622[1]Many chalkboard champions have distinguished themselves as talented athletes, and this is certainly the case with William Bernard Thieben, who is also a retired professional basketball player.

Bill Thieben was born in Suffolk County, New York, on March 28, 1935. He attended Sayville High School from 1948 to 1952, and played for his high school basketball team. After graduation, he enrolled at Hofstra University. In his sophomore, Bill played for his college team, and in his junior year, he was named an All-American by Look Magazine. In his senior year, he was again named an All-American by Look Magazine, and he also won the Haggerty Award, given to the New York City top male collegiate basektball player. Bill was the first student from Hofstra to earn this prestigious award. He graduated in 1956 with degrees in history and political science.

Bill was drafted into the National Basketball Association and played for the Fort Wayne Pistons during the 1956-1957 season, and the Detroit Pistons during the 1957-1958 season. At 6’6″ and 196 pounds, he played the position of forward. He participated in a total of 85 games during his professional basketball career.

After two season of professional basketball, Bill accepted a position as a history teacher at Bay Shore High School in Bay Shore, New York. His imposing stature, his hearty voice, and his unique ability to connect with students made him a truly remarkable educator. After three years in the classroom, Bill was promoted to assistant principal, a position he maintained for ten years. In 1971, Bill became the principal at Rocky Point High School, where he remained for twenty-three years. He retired in 1994. During these years, Bill also taught history and sociology at Suffolk Community College, Long Island University. He was also a professor of secondary education at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.

Bill Thieben’s positive influence on the students of Bay Shore was recognized in July of 2000. Almost three decades after leaving Bay Shore, students who attended the school in the 1960s honored this chalkboard champion by establishing a permanent memorial plaque at the high school in his name. Engraved on the plaque are the words “William B. Thieben – The voice that launched a thousand school days remains forever in our hearts.” A William B. Thieben Scholarship Fund was also created in his honor. In addition, an annual award is given to a senior graduate who needs a helping hand, because the students felt that Bill “was always there to lend a helping hand.”

In 1990, this talented athlete and remarkable educator was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2003, he was named a Colonial Athletic Association Basketball Legend, and in 2008, he had his jersey (#93) retired by the University.