I was recently at a program sponsored by Nazareth College that connected pre-service teachers with administrators from around the region. We practiced interviewing and networking, and all in all it was a great experience. During the round robin interviews, similar in style to speed dating, often the first question was, “Tell me, what made you want to become a teacher?” So, I thought I would share that story with you all.
The path that has brought me to this current belief is quite different from the path most teachers take. In fact, the path I have taken to become a teacher is unlike that of most of my colleagues. At most points in my life it is unlikely that I would have ever said that my end goal was to become a classroom based teacher. However, when I look back on my academic and professional experiences, it is quite clear how the choices I have made and passions I have followed ultimately led me to the profession I believe to be the most fulfilling, and exceptionally satisfying. The path I have taken to reach this point in my career mimics how I believe knowledge to be best transmitted. It is my belief that knowledge is active and is transmitted best through the interaction of direct experience. A belief that influences my mission and philosophy surrounding my role as science teacher.
I graduated in 2008 from SUNY-Geneseo with a degree in geography, focused on biological geography, climatology, and physical geography. I came to the degree as a junior, late in my undergraduate experience after switching between studio art and biology as majors. I found my passion in the field of geography, and continue to see it as the base of all the natural and social sciences. At the time of graduation if you asked me if I wanted to be a teacher I would have said, “Not at all.” I always believed the argument that I made, that I wanted to work directly in geography as a GIS technician or environmental manager, to be true. However, looking at the choices I made in terms of employment opportunities and what I chose to pursue it is quite clear that I truly desired another profession altogether. I really wanted to teach.
My first job after graduation was as Naturalist Intern with the N.Y.D.E.C., I lived and worked onsite at the Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center in Depew, NY. It is here that I first encountered experiential education as a practice and first began developing my education capabilities. I lead guided hikes and snowshoe walks of the preserve, contributed to a quarterly newsletter, and helped set up and present at various Western NY Outdoor events. I also designed and constructed a new exhibit for the education center. This job allowed me direct experience educating others about the environment and natural history. During this time I also worked as a GIS intern with Monroe County, and it was with that internship in mind that I began to pursue my graduate work at Towson State University. I hoped that the geography program there would expose me to further career opportunities, which it certainly did but not in the field I was anticipating.
I found my time at Towson to be the most compelling of my educational and professional career. The program allowed me to dive deeper into my understanding of science and build on the foundation I developed in my undergraduate program. While I found the academic setting and experience invigorating, it was three employment opportunities that I had while at Towson that led me to where I am today.
The first was as a graduate fellow with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a NSF graduate research fellowship in which I assisted in science education research with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. While working as a fellow I taught a curriculum for classroom science experiments developed by the researchers at Cary and BES. I developed and led teacher professional development based on the curriculum I helped create and then pre- and post-tested students on the curriculum and experiments that the students and teachers used in the classroom. This was my first exposure to scientific analysis used in developing science education curriculum and best practices, and began to solidify my desire to pursue teaching further. It was also my first time directly being responsible for and leading in the development of products and presentations for the use of others.
The second was working with the Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, as the Environmental Education Coordinator. I worked at Parks & People for a year as a member of the Chesapeake Conservation Corp, and it was this experience that has given me the most direct development of my educational preferences and capabilities. While at Parks & People, I developed a brand new kindergarten environmental education curriculum and put it into practice with a group of students at Patterson Park Public Charter School, I also managed and trained staff for our other environmental education outreach programs, and managed and trained youth staff for our summer camp programs. My experience at Parks & People exposed me to experiential education within a classroom environment and gave me the most direct development of my ability to lead and manage others. It was this experience that led me to pursue classroom teaching as a profession, and that directly led to my current post as a science teacher, department chair, and naturalist at Barrie.
The third employment opportunity is my time spent at Barrie, first as a teaching fellow and currently as a science teacher, science department chair, and naturalist. I taught sixth grade science, eleventh grade biology, and ap environmental science. In addition to my teaching responsibilities I was also the science department chair, and the schools naturalist, assisting in developing environmental experiences for many of the communities age groups, including our elementary students, and campers from Barrie Camp. As the most senior member of a department with many new members, I was able to lean into a space that allowed me to pursue my interest in science education best practices and entrepreneurial capacities. I have was able to lead in the generation of a parent advisory group to assist in the development of the STEAM program at Barrie, I also coordinated the first annual STEAM Fair which was held June 2014, and I have further developed my teaching and curriculum capabilities as I began to integrate NGSS into my department.
These experience have led me to where I am now, in the master’s program at the University of Rochester to earn my teaching certifications. I have found this program to be very fulfilling so far and that it is developing in me aspects of my teaching that were missing. I am going to go into more detail regarding this in the next post so stay tuned!