NCSE's Supporting Teachers team has grown quite a bit over 2021 and 2022. As it developed accurate, active, and engaging lesson plans on evolution, climate change, and nature of science, and now works to put those lessons in the hands of teachers, the team blossomed from one — Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews — to four. We thought you might be interested in learning more about this group, so we’ve asked each to write a few words about the path that brought them to NCSE and their current work at the organization.
Meet the (new) team
As long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a zoologist. I was determined to be the next Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. I wanted to travel the wilds of the planet and save as many animals as I could.
So, upon graduating high school, I attended the University of Memphis to become a biologist with an emphasis in zoology. I studied invertebrates, mammals, and my greatest passion, amphibians and reptiles. But one thing that my course of study didn’t prepare me for is how little I would make as a zoologist or biologist in the research field. My husband and I were barely scraping by while I worked at a nature center as he finished college. So I decided to get a more financially stable job, as a paraeducator at a nearby middle school. From the first moment I worked with students, I was hooked.
Soon I began a transition-to-teaching program at Wichita State University. I obtained my teaching certification in biology and chemistry as well as a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and then spent 20 years in the classroom. These were among some of the most important of my life. So why did I leave teaching to become Director of Teacher Support at NCSE?
While I miss the classroom every day, I’ve seen how the public education system doesn’t always support authentic science in the classroom. I’ve lived through several battles over the teaching of evolution in my state; I’ve been chastised for discussing socially controversial topics in science with my students; and I’ve seen teachers do more harm than good by sending mixed messages to students about climate change and evolutionary science.
My work at NCSE allows me to help my fellow teachers to navigate the turbulent waters that threaten to capsize the work of teachers everywhere. I know firsthand how challenging that can be.
Cari Herndon, Curriculum Specialist
I graduated from Otterbein University right as the Great Recession began. I accepted a job teaching English in Korea, believing that it would provide me with not only financial security but also opportunities to experience a new country with a rich culture. What I did not know was that it would infuse me with a passion for teaching as well.
Following my year in Korea, I enrolled at DePaul University to earn a teaching degree. This was during the time that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were being written and released, and as a part of my studies, I followed their progress. This new framework for teaching science called for a level of content depth and scientific practice that I found to be incredibly exciting, especially compared to the way I learned science as a K–12 student.
After receiving my graduate degree, I worked for Chicago Public Schools as a middle school science teacher and for the District of Columbia Public Schools for a total of 9 years. Between my teaching positions, I also worked as an Education Coordinator for National Park Trust, an organization I still hold near and dear to my heart. Throughout all this I was tasked with writing and revising curriculum. I left my teaching position last school year, determined to follow my passion for writing engaging curricula, which led me to the National Center for Science Education.
I have found within NCSE a community of like-minded professionals, committed to supporting teachers in their efforts to teach evolution, climate change, and other socially — but not scientifically — controversial topics. As a part of my work, I match NGSS standards and related topics to different misconceptions students have. From there, I create a series of lessons in which students engage with evidence, analyze data, and draw conclusions. Students follow a storyline, asking their own questions and discovering answers using real data. My hope is that the “sticky” — interesting, and hence easy to retain — science behind our lessons inoculates students against misconceptions they may encounter elsewhere.
Outside of my work, I enjoy being in nature, especially swimming, hiking, and birdwatching. I also enjoy traveling to different countries and visiting parks in our amazing National Park system.
Blake Touchet, Partnership Specialist
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. However, I think it says a lot about the status of education in the United States that I have always been met with a dismissive attitude when sharing my career aspirations. “You’re too smart to be a teacher. You could do so much more. Only a teacher? Why do you want to babysit all day?” I have experienced reactions and questions such as these my whole life — but I have always found them ridiculous. Too smart to be a teacher? Why would we not want intelligent people teaching our children? I could be doing more? Who does more for society than teachers? Only a teach- er? Teachers play arguably the most significant role in childrens’ lives aside from their parents and help to develop and maintain our democratic way of life. Civilization simply could not exist without teachers.
Throughout my career, I have always attempted to maximize my positive impact on my community. After teaching a few years, I realized that I could reach beyond the students in my classroom, so I started writing curricula and assessments and leading professional development sessions for other teachers in my district. A few years later, I cast my net even wider and became a Teacher Leader Advisor for the Louisiana Department of Education and took on other statewide roles. When the opportunities arose to join national science education organizations, I jumped at the chance. I joined the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science as one of their very first Teacher Corps members and I also joined NCSE as a Teacher Ambassador. I was able to network with amazing teachers around the country to bring their great ideas back to my community and share my local perspective with the world.
Today, I am the Partnership Specialist for NCSE’s Supporting Teachers program. My primary roles include forming partnerships with school districts to train and assist teachers and administrators who are field testing our curriculum materials, mentoring NCSE’s Teacher Ambassa- dors who help design and implement our curriculum, and promoting general engagement among our online professional learning community of teachers. Before entering my current role, I taught middle and high school science for 12 years. I recently completed a doctorate in educational leadership.
When I’m not busy being (only!) a teacher, I enjoy reading and spending time exploring the Louisiana outdoors with my wife and two sons.
Heather Grimes, Program Coordinator
I have been awed by nature and science for as long as I can remem- ber. In college, I was captivated by evolution and ended up graduating with a degree in anthropology. I later enrolled in a field studies program in which I compared the dialects of capuchin monkeys in Central America. Shortly afterwards, I shifted gears and began focusing more on the adminis- trative end of research and learning. After spending a decade working in various academic support roles at higher education institutions, I was led to where I am now as the Program Coordinator for NCSE’s Supporting Teachers program. In my ever-evolving role, I am the glue that holds our projects together and I keep the clockwork moving by providing all manner of support to Supporting Teachers staff, curriculum field testers, Teacher Ambassadors, and mentors.
I live on a small homestead in Massachusetts with my spouse, cats, and chickens. When I’m not working, I enjoy crafting, reading, photography, gardening, hiking, and archery.
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.