Every May, Americans set aside a week, Teacher Appreciation Week, to acknowledge the hard work and feeling our educators put into their work and the impact they have on us—both in and out of the classroom. May 7–11 marks that week in 2018.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, as of 2017, there were 3.6 million teachers in the United States teaching more than 50 million students in elementary and secondary education. An additional 1.5 million faculty members work at institutions of higher learning, teaching more than 20 million college students. We know educators' days start early and end late and include many hours of planning, grading, and conferences in addition to the time they spend in the classroom. Educators counsel students, write recommendations, oversee extracurricular groups, and stay on top of their own subject fields, as well as general educational trends. Teacher Appreciation Week isn't nearly a long enough period to recognize all these contributions, but it is a start.
Here at AAAS, some of us had some educators teaching in STEM fields and in other subjects we wanted to say thank you to in a public way. We know there are others in the Science NetLinks community who would like to acknowledge their favorite teachers, so please share your stories in the comments or on social media and use the hashtag #thankateacher. (Make sure to tag us, too, so we see your posts!)
Neela White, project director of the Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity, shares her memories of a standout teacher from Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland:
As a child growing up, I fell in love with science. I was drawn to space, and loved spending my spare time reading about stars and planets. Science was my favorite subject in elementary and middle school, however when I entered high school I was taught by someone who made me believe that I could not only love science but make it into a career. Mr. Edward McIntosh, “Mr. Mac” was my high school biology and anatomy/physiology teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. The magic of Mr. Mac went beyond what he taught in class, it was his ability to connect science to the real world. Mr. Mac truly wanted to see all his students, especially minority students, discover the STEM pathways into college and careers. As the sponsor for the MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) Scholars Program, he supervised a number of trips to places such as NASA, NIH, and countless trips to local universities, to expose us to the possibilities of a STEM career. He was so dedicated to seeing his students pursue their STEM dreams that he worked with willing students, like myself, to connect us with professionals in STEM fields. Knowing of my love of space, he connected me with an African-American, female astronomer who would serve as one of my first mentors and also encouraged me to pursue a career in STEM.
I was devastated to learn that Mr. Mac had passed away after I graduated college. I, along with many minority students that were in his class, chose a science discipline to study in undergrad. He encouraged many of the young men he taught to study biology at his alma mater, Hampton University, and one student and classmate of mine is now a biology and anatomy teacher at Blair. I’m so encouraged when I get to witness young people who are exposed to science programs, pathways, and careers through our work at AAAS. I consciously make efforts to volunteer for these activities at AAAS with hopes that I can inspire young people to believe in their STEM dreams just like Mr. Mac did with me.
Iris Wagstaff, STEM Program Director, still works with the teacher who had the biggest impact on her:
The teacher that has had the most impact on me is my high school chemistry teacher Mrs. Cheryl Alston – retired from Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, N.C. I had AP chemistry with her for two years in 1987 and 1988. She made chemistry come alive for me and it was a great influence on my deciding to major in chemistry in college and become a research chemist. She really cared about her students and was a great teacher. I reconnected with her in 2012 by chance at a STEM outreach conference in Alabama. Since then, we have been working together using gardening/agriculture as a context to teach STEM concepts to K-12 teachers and students in my hometown of Goldsboro, which has been deemed a food and STEM desert.
Mrs. Cheryl Alston (Left) and Iris Wagstaff work together to develop agricultural-based STEM lessons to engage students in the subject areas in Goldsboro, N.C. Photo Credit: Iris Wagstaff.
Rebekeh Corlew, Project Director for Public Engagement, studied neuroscience and psychology at the University of Washington and earned a PhD in neurobiology from the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Dr. William J. Moody taught my Intro to Neurobiology course at the University of Washington. He always answered students' questions as if they were the most insightful question he'd ever heard on the topic. He kept students on the edge of their seats through his lectures because we felt like we were, together, exploring cutting edge research. Instead of hearing about stuff that had already been figured out, he made us feel like WE were the ones figuring it all out. Once I asked a question and he paused and said "I don't know. . . . I don't think it's known, and you should do the experiment, and come back there and tell us the answer." That is how science should be taught.
Kirstin Fearnley, who writes for Science NetLinks, had a great math teacher at Lyman Hall High School:
Gerald Munley was the chair of the math department at Lyman Hall HIgh School in Wallingford, Conn., in the late '80s and early '90s and taught my junior year course of trigonometry, pre-calculus, and analytic geometry. Known for his fondness for puns, particularly those that could be given a math-related twist, Mr. Munley was always around and available for afterschool help for not only his own class, but for anyone else needing math help in any of the subjects taught at our school. You would often find a dozen or so kids in his classroom in the late afternoon, either tutoring or brushing up on a topic. He was convinced that any student could go on to study math successfully and that it was only a matter of time before the math-love bug that had bit him would get you as well. Sadly, Mr. Munley died young in his early 50s while I was in college, but I think he would have been tickled that I ended up at a STEM workplace, and I'm sure he would have come up with something groaningly punny to say about it.
My daughter, Melanie, is a third grade teacher. She teaches many young students from Latin countries — some who know little English and struggle to master their academics. Melanie has demonstrated thoughtfulness and determination in providing each of her students with the best support possible. She has convinced her principal and her team to structure the curriculum to both meet standards and create improved learning opportunities for all students. I am so proud of my compassionate and forward moving daughter.
The AAAS STEM Volunteer Program would like to thank the more than 200 elementary, middle, and high school teachers in nine school districts in the D.C. metro area who are partnering with AAAS members and other STEM professionals. These teachers have welcomed volunteers into their classrooms throughout the 2017-2018 school year. Together they are building science literacy for all children.
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