Straight from the Heart: One Teacher’s Unforgettable Lesson on Appreciation and Pride

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Martha Cothren

Martha Cothren


Originally published 11/11/2014

Martha Cothren is a teacher, coach, veterans’ advocate and hero to many. Her inspirational story, which has been making the rounds on the world-wide web for almost a decade now, has made the Little Rock high school history teacher into a legend among educators and veteran advocates.  It’s probably only a matter of time, in fact, until Martha’s story is scooped up by some screenwriter and made into a movie with Meryl Streep in the leading role.

 It wouldn’t be the first time a hero from Martha’s family became a character on the big screen after all, but we’ll get to that later.

Right now, on the outside chance you haven’t heard Martha’s story, we need to bring you up to speed:


On the first day of school in 2005, Martha Cothren, a teacher at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, was determined that her students would not take their education or their privilege as Americans for granted. With the principal’s permission, she removed all the desks from her classroom. The students entered the empty room and asked, “Mrs. Cothren, where are our desks?” “You get a desk when you tell me how you earn it,” she replied.

“Making good grades?” asked one student.

“You ought to make good grades, but that won’t get you a desk,” Martha responded.

“I guess we have to behave,” offered another.

“You will behave in my class,” Mrs. Cothren retorted, “but that won’t get you a desk either.”

No one in first period guessed right. Same for second period.

By lunch, the buzz was all over campus… Mrs. Cothren had flipped out ….wouldn’t let her students have a desk. Kids had used their cell phones and called their parents.

By early afternoon, all four of the local network TV affiliates had camera crews at the school to report on the teacher who wouldn’t let her students have a desk unless they could tell her how they earned it. By the final period, no one had guessed correctly.

As the students filed in, Martha Cothren said, “Well, I didn’t think you would figure it out, so I’ll have to tell you.”

Martha opened the door of her classroom. In walked 27 veterans, some wearing uniforms from years gone by, but each one carrying a school desk.

As they carefully and quietly arranged the desks in neat rows, Martha said, “You don’t have to earn your desks. These guys already did.

“They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have.

“No one charged you for your desk. But it wasn’t really free. These guys bought it for you. And I hope you never forget it. ”         Continue to next page for more of this story

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