Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S., Biology
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Roberto Clemente Community Academy, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL; Science, grade 9
What made you decide to become a teacher?
Prior to teaching, I worked as a Youth Farm Coordinator with Windy City Harvest, a youth development program that educates and employs students from communities in Chicago. In this role, I trained high school students to work on the farm, taught a variety of curricula, went on field trips, and had an overarching goal of instilling social and emotional learning. This job taught me how much I love working with high school students; their fascination with the natural world around them on the farm made me want to go back to school to teach Biology!
Describe your current teaching assignment.
Roberto Clemente Community Academy is an IB school located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. It is an historically Puerto Rican community, and this is reflected in our school’s population, which also draws from the surrounding neighborhoods. We have about 650 students. My current teaching assignments are freshman Biology and sophomore Chemistry, both of which I love a lot! The students have tackled remote learning like champs, although I think everyone is excited for in-person learning again.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program taught me how to teach science in a way that would promote curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, and empathy in the students learning it. More than that, the Noyce program showed that science should be exciting and explorative for students–not a means of bogging them down with memorization tasks. So many students come into the school with the idea that they “aren’t good at science”, and Noyce has prepared me to tackle that with encouragement and relevancy. This helps me bridge connections for students between what they are learning in my class and what is happening in their other classes–especially the CTE (career and technical education) courses they might take as upperclassmen!
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
YES! Our program was dedicated to culturally responsive teaching and healing-centered education, which has been especially helpful in a year that has held a lot of trauma for many students. During the past year especially, I have tried to teach science content and skills through an SEL (social-emotional learning) lens, providing students the opportunity to move at their own pace, bridge their own connections, and play a little bit along the way.
I try to scaffold, scaffold, scaffold. Helping students to grasp the lower-order stuff gives them the opportunity to use their brain power for higher level thinking! And having guiding questions on hand helps with that. I also try to ask students “What do you know about this already?” and “Why do you think we’re learning this?” as much as possible. In my dream world, I ask for student input on what we are learning MUCH more often–this is easier said than done, but it’s a goal of mine for the future.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
The Noyce program at Loyola really emphasizes student-focused learning. While I was in school, I must admit that I thought that that was a little obvious. After being in the classroom for two years, I know how easy it is to slip into teacher-focused learning–fewer options, cookie-cutter curriculum, and a very controlled environment. Having that education from Loyola really pulled me back to considering what I want my classroom to look like and how I want my students to feel. This guides not only the lessons that I teach but my classroom management style, both of which are always evolving (and look a lot different virtually than they do in the actual classroom).
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
The Midwest Annual Robert Noyce Conference in 2018 introduced me to so many practicing and future educators who were just so curious; that was really inspiring. As exhausting as teaching is sometimes, I’ve tried to seek out some professional development opportunities, including a teacher program with the Field Museum here in Chicago. The content that I am the most excited about teaching (ecology, evolution, heredity) is the stuff that the students also get most excited about–they feel that energy! And so, I’m trying to find ways to teach the stuff that’s less exciting for me (ahem…the cell cycle) in a way that can build my interest and, in turn, do the same for the students. The Noyce program leaders at Loyola really encouraged a teacher-curious approach to teaching (find the things and ways you like to teach and do it!), which was much appreciated.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
Everyone laughs because my first two years of teaching were quite the rollercoaster–the strike during 2019, a few months of normalcy, and then COVID. In a lot of ways, I still feel like a first semester teacher, and in a lot of other ways, feel like I have been doing this for years. Regardless, I have learned so much and have developed so many important relationships during this time. These relationships–with other teachers and staff and, most importantly, with the students–are what make this job what it is.
I would also like to recommend some resources that have been helpful to me.
- Teaching for Black Lives: I read this with other teachers and think it should be required reading.
- Zinn Education Project: An incredible resource with teaching materials available on their website.
- Better Than Carrots Or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management: I panic-read it before my first days; it brought me a lot of comfort and good ideas!
- Honestly, I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment about it my first year, but Teachers Pay Teachers has some really good stuff! In your first few years, you’re going to have a million things to do. Make/revise/adapt your own curriculum as much as you can (it’s way more fun to teach that way!), but sometimes…don’t reinvent the wheel.