Chalkboard Heroes: 12 Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Mar 13, 2015 / 0 comments

You know what I love? Stories of awesome people. They inspire, teach, and lead by example. Such is the case with Chalkboard Heroes, a marvelous new book by Terry Lee Marzell.

I think it that to write about incredible people, you must be an incredible person, yourself. And so it is. Terry has been an educator in Corona, California, for the past thirty-three years, working at both the high school and the junior high school levels. She has taught English, developmental reading, drama, journalism, library science, geography, and interior design. She has also served as her school’s cheerleading advisor for four years, the drama coach for two years, and the school’s newspaper advisor for five years. Throughout her long career as an educator, she has worked with English-language learners and students in honors courses, and she has been a mentor for both International Baccalaureate candidates and special education students. Terry has seven years of experience as a home-stay coordinator and tour escort for students from abroad. In addition, she has mentored several collegiate student teachers. She is currently serving her school as a district librarian.


Terry Lee Marzell


Let’s talk about her new book, Chalkboard Heroes. This is a remarkable, inspiring book of – yes, you guessed it – remarkable, inspiring teachers. What springs to mind when I read this? That ordinary people can do extraordinary things. That beliefs COUNT. That teachers are pretty special, indeed.


Chalkboard Heroes


What I love most about this book is the care taken in writing these lives. You can tell that Terry loves teachers, writing, researching, and the selflessness and caring that teachers bring to their students.

This book? It’s a gift to the world, an act of love that shows how important teachers are, throughout history. We know the stories of some – Christa McAuliffe, Robert Moses, Dave Sanders. The stories of others I didn’t know both educate and warm my heart, from coping with racism to the frontier, from gender to social change. This is a history book, an ode to the teaching profession, and a deep look into the lives of teachers. But most of all, it’s a compilation of incredible lives, spent in the pursuit of something they cherished. That is, indeed, remarkable.


We were lucky enough to catch up with Terry, and ask her about her book, inspiration, research, and more. Here’s what she had to say…


Please tell us about your book, Chalkboard Heroes...

Chalkboard Heroes celebrates twelve remarkable teachers in American history who did heroic things. Some of them took considerable risks and made substantial sacrifices. There are the teachers who served in the armed forces who marched valiantly off to war. Henry Alvin Cameron, a science teacher from Nashville, Tennessee, who fought during WWI, and educator Francis Wayland Parker, a Civil War veteran, are examples of these. There are the social reformers who endangered their personal safety to bring about improved conditions for America’s disenfranchised citizens, such as Dolores Huerta, who worked with Cesar Chavez on behalf of migrant farmworkers, and Robert Parris Moses, the New York City math teacher who organized citizenship schools during Freedom Summer in 1964. Zitkala Sa campaigned for the right to vote for Native Americans, and Carrie Chapman Catt worked tirelessly to secure suffrage for women. There are the trailblazers, like Etta Schureman Jones, the Alaskan pioneer who landed in a POW camp in Japan during WWII, and Olive Mann Isbell, who immigrated to the West and established the first English school in California while the Mexican American War raged all around her. And, of course, Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space. And then there are those heroic teachers who lay down their lives to protect their students from harm, like Dave Sanders, the chalkboard hero of Columbine High School. Each one of these courageous educators has a fascinating story about dedication and sacrifice, a story that deserves to be heard.


Christa McAuliffe. From Chalkboard Heroes


What inspired you to write this book?

This book is similar to my first book, Chalkboard Champions, which tells the stories of twelve teachers who worked with disenfranchised groups of students. I just love to tell stories about remarkable and dedicated teachers. We sometimes hear negative stories about teachers in the media, and I just wanted to balance those reports with some positive stories. There are so many outstanding stories to tell!


I'm all about the research - what was it like, discovering these teachers and their lives?

When I selected the teachers to be included in the volume, I was deliberately looking for diversity and balance. I wanted both men and women teachers, I wanted as many ethnic groups to be represented as possible, and I wanted a wide range geographically from east coast to west coast, north and south. I also wanted the stories to span the history of our nation from our early period to contemporary times. Some of the teachers, like Carrie Chapman Catt and Christa McAuliffe, were easy to find information for, but others, like Henry Alvin Cameron and Dave Sanders, presented more difficult challenges with regards to research. But then, that’s what research is all about, isn’t it?

I am very diligent about documenting my sources. I feel this is important if I expect to be taken seriously as a researcher.


Henry Alvin Cameron. From Chalkboard Heroes



What surprised you the most, when researching and writing this book?

I was surprised that it is easier to find information about women teachers than about men, particularly in years of the westward expansion. I guess that’s because most teaching positions were filled by women; men had other venues where they could make their mark.

I was surprised that no one has done a full-length biography of Dolores Huerta for adult readers. I was able to locate a volume which had a collection of essays and newspaper stories written about her, but she’s such an interesting historical figure, and she’s still alive, so I hope someone does that before too much more time passes.


What are the takeaways that you hope readers gain, from reading Chalkboard Heroes?

For me, the most important thing is that readers gain an appreciation for the enterprise and dedication of our nation’s teachers, and much our society as a whole owes to them, even if their efforts produce less spectacle than that of, say, a politician or a professional athlete or an entertainer.


Olive Mann Isbell. From Chalkboard Heroes


What's up next for you?

Well, right now I am working on the coursework required to earn my library credential. The program at Cal State Long Beach is very intense, but I am learning so much. Once that is complete, I intend to start my third book, tentatively titled Chalkboard Politicians. It will be a book that explores the lives of teachers who also worked in government. So far I have planned chapters on LBJ, Laura Bush, Pat Nixon, Grace Coolidge, and Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii.


Is there anything else you'd like to share?

The first book, Chalkboard Champions, has been added to six academic libraries, including Hunter College, the University of Southern Mississippi, University of the Pacific, Winona State University, State University of New York at Oswego, and Salem State University. It is also in the collection at the Library of Congress.


Willa Brown Chappell. From Chalkboard Heroes


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Note: we received a review copy of Chalkboard Heroes from the author – thank you!