Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Biology, specialization in Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
South Dakota State University
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Montrose High School, Montrose, SD; Advanced Biology, Biology, Conceptual Chemistry, Conceptual Physics, Anatomy and Physiology, Physics, and Chemistry (grades 9-12)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
Deep down, I always wanted to be a teacher. At age 3, my imaginary friend was one. However, I went to college dead set that I was not going into teaching, so began with a pre-Veterinary focus at South Dakota State University (SDSU). After my first vet science class, I decided diagnosis was not for me and promptly switched to science education. I have been there for 12 years.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I teach in Montrose, a small rural school district in South Dakota. We are thirty minutes from Sioux Falls, the largest city in the state. There are around 65 students in the high school and district wide around 260 pre-K through twelfth graders. I am the only science teacher in the high school and until five years ago was the only science teacher in the district.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce REMAST (Rural Enhancement of Mathematics and Science Teachers) program at SDSU focuses on getting the very best STEM educators into rural districts. As the only science teacher in my district when I started, I had no one to talk to, no opportunities for collaboration or to get other ideas. My SDSU professors were some of the first people I would go to for advice. They maintained their connections with me and pushed me to get involved in professional communities, like NSTA, and take on leadership positions.
The community and the on-going support provided by the program has been impressive. I was one of the first participants and have continued to be involved with all cohorts passing through program. We are the REMAST family. Each year, we have a conference for current scholars and alumni to network, make presentations, and build a community that we might not have been able to do through a non-Noyce teacher preparation program. Most likely I would not have been allowed to stay involved with future cohorts of pre-service teachers. I have invited teachers who trained at other universities in South Dakota to the REMAST conferences. They are impressed by the support of Noyce staff and the ongoing involvement with alumni. One visitor said that she had not talked with her teacher prep professors since graduating.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Montrose, South Dakota is a small town—about 480 people. Because of the small community, students see success as going to someplace bigger, getting away. Parents want their children to leave home and be successful, but students tend to pigeonhole themselves into limited occupations when it comes to science—a nurse or doctor. I try to show them that you can do other things that require a science background. The connection with the Sanford research labs is one way of demonstrating this. A student who only wanted to be a dental hygienist now sees other opportunities after the course that engaged her in research. I also work to build solid relationships with my students. They are always welcome in my room when they need something. I try to be that person outside their normal circle who they can go to for advice or just to listen.
Once I got into teaching, I learned that content building and education philosophy can sometimes go to the back burner in class because I might need to be an advisor, a surrogate parent, a therapist, depending on situation. Teaching is not one specific profession. This was an eye opener for me when I started teaching. The focus needs to be on students first. When you think of them as your responsibility, your kids, you can make sure they don’t get lost…in the system, in their lives. Remember they are individuals, and their needs are different–focus on each one as an individual
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
As mentioned, the Noyce program at SDSU focuses on training the best STEM educators for rural students. I try to make sure that when my students, as graduates, walk into a course about which they should know something that they do know what’s going on – they are prepared! I also try to show them that there are many different science careers. For example, I use my connections with a local research lab, a way to provide research experiences for my students. I’m happy when I hear that my graduates attribute their success in courses to me and the preparation I provided.
I continue to learn through the professional development provided by REMAST at their annual conferences. There might be a session on how to handle the workload of multiple class preps in addition to other obligations that a teacher in a small district might hold (coaching, mentoring, even bus driving). The REMAST faculty are amazing examples of what a teacher leader looks like–they are teacher leaders themselves.
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 yearly conferences organized by REMAST invite alumni to share their experiences and resources through mini sessions which provide an opportunity to learn about new resources as well as a contact person to help guide me as I try to implement these new strategies or resources. My Noyce faculty mentors introduced me right away to the state chapter of NSTA. This is how I connected with other teachers and really got involved in education in my state.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
In 2019, I was a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.
Hear Tiffany and other Noyce alumni share their proudest moments in teaching.