Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Physics, M.Ed. Secondary Science
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
James Bowen High School, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL; Physics and Chemistry (grades 10-11)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
During the war in Iraq, I was an Applied Geophysics Technician in the Air Force. At that time, I encountered many people who joined the military service because they felt that they had not had a sufficient support system after high school. While there are many reasons to put on a uniform, a lack of viable options should not be one of them; nobody should be forced to put their body in danger for a paycheck. By becoming a teacher, I wanted to find a way to enrich the post-secondary lives of people by helping them to discover the different avenues available to them while they were in high school.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I presently work at James H. Bowen High School on the south side of Chicago. I was hired by Bowen before I left graduate school. It was a perfect fit—I wanted to work where I am needed, and this small high school offered me that opportunity. Though I’ve worked other places in temporary summer assignments, Bowen is my home. It is a small majority-minority school with only 250 students; over 80% are African American. I was made the Science Department Chair after a year working here and, at one time or another, I’ve served as the bilingual coordinator, the delegate to the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and the organizer for Bowen’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
Noyce enabled me to join the Loyola M.Ed. program, where I was able to get a handle on the experience I would eventually have in my vocation. It was always the plan to take a pure science baccalaureate degree and apply it to a master’s in education, but degrees and certifications “do not a classroom experience make.” Through Noyce and through Loyola, I was able to engage in student teaching at Morgan Park High School, which exists in an environment similar to Bowen’s. The hands-on experience supported by structured pedagogy made transitioning into my role here more organic.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Certainly. Broadly speaking, the M.Ed. program at Loyola encouraged us to engage students using the knowledge, skills, and personal connections that they bring to the classroom. Some people call this “meeting kids where they are” or “funds of knowledge,” but ultimately students are best able to connect with things that are important to them. Tethering new ideas to old thinking is central to the practice of teaching.
As a science teacher, I try to integrate student-selected phenomena into the broader lesson plan. Relevancy is born of connection to experience. Since science broadly describes the observable, I can engage students with knowledge from what they see in their own lives, and use that as a basis to describe the things that are more difficult to see. I also get better engagement this way—usually a student won’t select examples that they themselves find boring or difficult to understand. For example, oftentimes kinematics is described through sports examples. However, to constrain oneself in that way limits engagement. With a little flexibility, students can describe the motion of objects they’ve seen in their own experience, and can build out the mathematical relationships from there. Once students make the connection between what’s happening around them and what’s happening on paper, they’ll develop as scientists and producers of predictive models.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I would say that the most valuable thing I received was experience. Again, there’s nothing that can prepare you for the day-to-day other than doing it. There’s a gap between a well-crafted framework for teaching and the realization of student potential. Content and pedagogy are important, but engaging the world in which students live and interact is far more effective than dogged adherence to a structure. I think the most vital thing I picked up through Noyce is that flexibility, improvisation, and student interest are necessary to a holistic practice.
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?
I am part of the pilot for the University of Chicago’s TeachQuantum program, which aims to develop high school units based around quantum computing. This program is new, so I’m not certain precisely what it entails, but I look forward to bringing quantum mechanics into my classroom. My Noyce coordinator, Dr. Smetana, alerted me to the opportunity. Thanks, Doc.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
It is difficult to narrow it down. I feel like the longer I’m in this role, the more I’m able to give myself room to make mistakes and grow. This year, in particular, was quite humbling, but forced us all to innovate pretty extensively. Turning a highly collaborative laboratory science class into something that can be done remotely is not easy. We did labs on camera, reflections in breakout rooms, and simulation after simulation. We were not perfect, but we learned flexibility and compassion.
When I was starting out, Newsela was a great source of mini-lessons and material. We’re all reading teachers, after all, and if you allow students to select their own materials from a library like Newsela’s, you engage interest and foster understanding.