What will you miss most about classroom teaching?
The thrill of seeing a student light up when they make a connection. There is no better drug than watching my students figure out an idea or concept in biology and then make it their own. I will definitely miss those moments the most. That, and being able to tell such amazing stories. Biology has the best true-life stories. I have always taught through stories. I love to weave all of the biological concepts into case studies, biographies, and even sci-fi to help our students better understand. I would use the story of Wallace for evolution, the Spanish flu of 1918 for epidemiology, and Avatar for ecology–my list goes on and on. With such amazing writers as Stephen Jay Gould, Sean B. Carroll, and Barbara Kingsolver out there, there was a never-ending treasure trove to pick from! I’m a voracious reader and would immediately assimilate any good story into my classroom whether it was non-fiction or sci-fi/fantasy. If I found a way to hook a student’s interest, I’d use it! Yes, I’ll miss that part very much.
What do you think are the biggest challenges today facing educators focused on climate change? Evolution?
I feel our biggest challenge is shifting the conversation away from “the debate” about these subjects to the reality of them instead.
Students should be problem-solving climate change, not debating if it’s man-made or natural. Those debates need to be a thing of the past: dealing with the consequences of either “version” of climate change must be dealt with in the here and now, before it’s too late. I often ask my own students, does it really matter how we got here? We need to figure out what we are going to do for all the displaced people from flooding, how we can develop strategies to deal with droughts and wildfires, and all else to come. We must be better than our current leaders and stop arguing in circles. We must be proactive and begin engineering solutions and putting all our STEAM training and efforts to work. In my opinion, you can’t get more “real-world” in a classroom than have them problem-solve how to help with some aspect of climate change.
As for evolution, helping students find peace with their religion and science will be imperative to moving these conversations forward. Again, debating evolution is a waste of our time as we have literally volumes of evidence to support the most important theory of biology. This is where the nature of science is so important. We must use the scientific process to approach the problem and work through all the steps until, upon conclusion, students will be shocked that they thought it was such a big deal in the first place. Reasonable, rational dialogue will be key and showing evidence repeatedly without debate, but with confidence and understanding, is what our teachers need to help conquer the misconceptions about evolution.
When can the NCSETeach community meet you face-to-face?
Even before I accepted the position of Director of Teacher Support, I already had my flight booked for the National Association of Biology Teachers’ National Conference in Chicago, Illinois, in November and paid for my conference out of my own pocket. I never miss it! Now, I get to help the NCSE team in my first major event, since NCSE will have a booth there. I’m hoping to meet as many Teacher Ambassadors and other educators as I can while there. Please, stop by the NCSE booth and introduce yourselves whenever you can. Additionally, while I’m still in the middle of transitioning out of my own classroom, I am available to anyone via my new e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and will respond as quickly as I can to your requests and needs. Emma Doctors, NCSE Program Coordinator, and the rest of the NCSE crew are helping me stay up to date until I can dedicate myself completely to my new position—which should be no later than the end of the year. I look forward to getting to know you all!