My refrigerator is covered with children’s drawings and notes. These weren’t made by my own children; they were given to me by students. There is a thank you note decorated with sketches of protists from one child and a scale drawing of a fabulous apartment that a different child hopes I will someday get to occupy. The mementos that are the most meaningful to me are the ones that let me know that students who were once anxious or indifferent about science developed a real appreciation for the subject.
When my family members ask how work is going, I often show them evidence of the fun I get to have. Here’s a photo I call Subject Meets Student. It’s from a lesson in which students carefully observed two types of annelid (the common earthworm, shown here, and the aquatic California blackworm). They compared and contrasted their anatomy, behavior, and environmental requirements in order to understand how they are related to each other and how each fits into their ecosystems.
A big part of the fun of science comes from “whiz-bang” experiments with live annelids, DNA extractions, rubber-band vehicles, or startling microscopic creatures. However, learning must always come first. No matter how messy or exciting a lab is, the crafting of questions to be investigated, careful experimental design, data collection, and critical reasoning are always at the forefront. The photo below shows an end-of-year experiment in which students got to produce fountains with Coke and Mentos. It was great fun- but before the first candy was dropped into the first bottle of soda, questions were formulated, variables were identified and a data-collection plan was developed. And after the last geyser died down, the data was analyzed, the questions were answered, and the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the experiment were discussed.
Teaching is a rich and rewarding career. I’ve been teaching professionally since 2002 and I’m proud of how much my skills have grown. I’d say that one of my strengths is my ability to predict which concepts will be difficult and plan lessons to support students so they can achieve mastery without feeling overwhelmed. Another is my ability to create an emotionally safe learning environment where intellectual risk-taking is possible. (I believe the picture below is evidence of how safe my students feel: it takes courage for an adolescent to don a dust mask with a straw sticking out of it in a public park!)
I have taught in many different environments: traditional classrooms, one-on-one tutoring sessions, and group homeschool science classes. In my non-professional life, I even teach on a river. Below, you can see me with a group of four adults who are rowing for the very first time.
I hope I have been able to convey how much I care about my students and how much pleasure I get from teaching. The one thing I don’t get much enjoyment out of is the materials management involved with conducting lab classes in multiple locations throughout the city. I am ready for a classroom and a supply closet! And that is why I am actively seeking a position as a science teacher in a NYC independent school.