Career Interview:
Describe the school in which you taught last year.
Wingfield High School (WHS) is one of eight high schools in the largest, most urban district in Mississippi. Wingfield has a total enrollment of approximately 1,100 in grades 9 through 12. Eighty-seven percent of Wingfield’s students receive free or reduced lunch.
What excites you most about teaching science?
I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a teacher. When I entered college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to teach. I briefly entertained the notion of being a Language Arts teacher because I enjoy reading. Science, however challenges me. In my science courses I found interesting ideas that pushed me and made me think. I gravitated toward the life sciences because I am fascinated by the beauty and complexity of living systems. Teaching science, I have the opportunity to excite students about that complexity. I get to spend the vast majority of my ‘working time’ talking about stuff that is really interesting to me and just plain cool.
What drew you to the HudsonAlpha Educator in Residence program?
I knew I wanted to apply as soon as I read the Educator in Residence information on the HudsonAlpha website. I was intrigued by the whole idea of spending a year learning about state of the art genomic sciences. My last intensive study of the subject was when I was an undergraduate fifteen years ago. Think about how much the science has grown in those years. The pace of new discovery had quickly outpaced my ability to keep up by simply reading. This represented a chance for me to truly study, to have the time to learn and process the content as well as hone my pedagogy skills. I’ll have the opportunity to work along side scientists and researchers, to learn from the people doing ‘real science’. I have to admit to being nervous about the thought of being out of the classroom for a whole year. I thought that this investment of time would make me a better teacher, that more current content knowledge would make it easier for me to give students the tools they are going to need. I love teaching and this program is going to make me a better teacher.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being the Educator in Residence at HudsonAlpha?
I knew when I applied for the Educator in Residence fellowship that I had content gaps in genetics and molecular biology. I have spent much of this first part of my year, confronting those gaps. It is humbling. Luckily this office is full of approachable geniuses and they have been very supportive of me, often stopping what they are doing to explain something to me. It is like having five personal tutors to help you wrestle with difficult concepts. Some of the concepts are indeed difficult and require a persistence of effort that is new to me. I know that my students will get the benefit of my wrestling. I will be better able to identify their misconceptions and facilitate their learning because I will have been in their shoes.
What has been the most exciting aspect of being the Educator in Residence at HudsonAlpha?
The Education Outreach office at HudsonAlpha is fast paced and exciting. No two days in the Education Outreach office are the same. One day the team might present sessions for two different groups in two different locations in the Institute. The next day we might be packing up for an AP lab in a local school. Later that same day we might be doing research for a new kit being developed. The pace is demanding, but invigorating. I realized quickly that you can learn while you’re running.
How do you think this experience will impact your teaching going forward?
This experience has given me some powerful tools to engage my students. On a concrete level, I will leave HudsonAlpha with the equipment needed to perform complex molecular genetics experiments in my classroom. My students will have what they need to do some of the same kinds of experiments performed here at the institute. On a more abstract level, I will leave the institute with an enriched ‘teacher tool kit’. My own knowledge is increased, and I have had the benefit of working with dynamic and energetic people. Even though it is only September, I have a list of ‘can’t wait to try’ ideas for my classroom. The Educator in Residence experience has given me the knowledge to confidently address genetic and genomic sciences with my students.
How do you see your experience at HudsonAlpha impacting your future students?
Studies have shown that professional development that focuses on increasing the content knowledge of the instructor leads to measureable gains in student achievement. This program is focused on creating opportunities for deeper understandings of genetics concepts for the educator in residence. Additional research has shown that this type of professional development is more effective when the number of contact hours is ‘substantial’. Based on those two factors, this experience should lead to improvement in my students’ grasp of difficult to teach genetics concepts. Additionally, my increased confidence with and enthusiasm about the subject will hopefully translate into increased student engagement.
We live in a world of information and rapid change. If I can equip my students with a solid foundation in basic concepts and a framework for integrating new learning, then I will have done my job. I also hope to light sparks of interest that lead to greater numbers of my students entering the field. I think this experience will help me take on those tasks.
Was the experience valuable to you as a teacher in the sciences?
First off this experience has been valuable to me as a person. I have felt welcomed into a dynamic group of passionate, intelligent, gifted individuals and have been privileged to labor along side them. That personal growth will no doubt contribute to my effectiveness in the classroom. I will leave this experience with a knowledge base that is broad, but has depth and with the skills and understanding needed to move students into the next decade. On a more subtle level, I will be able to speak to students about what it is like working in the biotech field, because I have seen it, watched it and even done it myself.
Secondly, I feel strongly that teachers should have a larger voice in educational reform. I think that will teachers play a critical role in shaping the classrooms of the future and changing the way instruction is delivered in this country. In order for that to happen, teachers must be empowered to take leadership roles. Science teachers in particular will play a vital role in preparing our nations children for what lies ahead. We must be ready to be increasing public and vocal as we advocate for our students. This experience is one of the ways that I am prepping my vocal cords.
Madelene Loftin
Biology Certified Teacher