Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S., Ecology, Brigham Young University
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
University of Wyoming
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
South Hills Middle School, Twin Falls, ID; Earth Science (6th grade) and Life Science (7th grade)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
It’s a little embarrassing, but I quit going to school in 7th grade (I didn’t make great decisions then). I earned my GED while attending the Montana Youth Challenge Academy. My mom talked me into trying a semester of college because I was awarded a scholarship. I tried, did okay, but after a semester, went back to my old ways. I started college a couple of times, but it wasn’t until I got married and had the support of my wife and the responsibility of a family that I took it seriously. I earned a B.S. in Ecology, then worked for my dad in construction. During college, I gained an appreciation for education and learned to love learning but didn’t know what to do once I had a degree. I was roofing during the day, working at a movie theater at night, and then started tutoring adults for the GED. I really enjoyed that. My mom and dad were the first to suggest that I consider teaching. They said, “you love knowing stuff, learning stuff, and helping others, so pay it forward.” My wife and I spent a pretty hard year considering that, and after meditation, advise-seeking, and prayer, we committed and started looking at schools. I wanted to go to the best so after some research, I set my heart on the University of Wyoming and was recruited to be a SWARMS Noyce Scholar.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
My current teaching assignment is amazing. South Hills Middle School has the most impressive administration, staff, and students. We are a Title I school in south central Idaho with mainly White and Hispanic students. Our school has a reputation for hard work and talent. Things are difficult this year because of COVID and online teaching, however, despite the challenges, we are working together to improve student outcomes. Twin Falls, ID is a diverse and unique town, in the center of what we call, the Magic Valley. The area is known for agriculture but in Twin Falls, farms are being sold and agriculture is on the decline. There are several factories that are the primary source of income. The community has grown rapidly, as more factories have moved in. Twin Falls is also home to a large refugee population from Africa and south Asia. The College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center helps individuals/families find homes, employment, and other things.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
I would like to begin by giving Dr. Andrea Burrows, PI of the SWARMS Noyce Project, a huge shoutout for her support during and after the program. SWARMS provided the tools I would need in the classroom. I learned about adhering to IEPs and 504s, designing and administering assessments, using the best science teaching practices, and designing engaging science lessons. I learned about partnerships and diversity in the classroom and building a class culture that reflects the student’s culture. The program is still preparing me—I am invited to professional development workshops and am in contact with people in my program through a SWARMS chatroom. I went back and looked at my cohort video recently and got nostalgic. I still contact Dr. Burrows with questions. It’s been especially helpful to have this training and then teach in a Title I school.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
The Noyce Program taught me to use culturally responsive teaching. We discussed equity, bias, inclusion, and diversity and were taught to be inviting and to show appreciation for every student and what they could offer to our classroom knowledge and culture. We learned to build a student-centered classroom and be reflective in considering how best to address the diversity our students. Reflection is key. All of this made me “aware,” and becoming aware was the best preparation I received from the SWARMS program.
I try to be open and responsive to all of my students. Each year I learn new things about other cultures and get to display different aspects of students’ lives. I allow students to share their culture with one another. Middle school can be a hard place because students do not want to be different or stand out, however, if someone helps them realize that their difference makes them special, this can change their perspective. I try to help them see they are special in a multitude of ways. It’s not always easy, being open has also meant that sometimes I have to challenge my own beliefs and biases. Students in middle school want to learn from someone who makes them feel special. They want to live up to the positive expectations that you have and thrive on positive attention.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I work hard to align my teaching to the state standards, design assessments that are accessible, and use pre- and post-tests to figure out what students already know and what they learned from my lessons. I use formative assessments to gauge what students know and summative assessments (in different formats) to find evidence of their learning. I let students try and if they fail, I let them try again. I use phenomenon-based and authentic science strategies and think about ways to integrate other STEM disciplines as I’m teaching. A big take away I learned and try to apply daily is building and sustaining relationships with students. I make a significant effort every year to call or email parents and tell them something I appreciate about their child. When I make these calls, I make sure my feedback is specific and honest. Parents really appreciate that.
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 studying for my master’s in educational leadership at Western Governors University. At South Hills Middle, I am working with our instructional coach to design and pilot a new biology unit on the cell. Regarding my Noyce experience, I can say if it wasn’t for Dr. Burrows and the SWARMS program, I would have not kept teaching after my first year. The support during that first year was important to me to stay in teaching. I knew I wanted to be a better teacher, and the SWARMS program helped to instill a desire to keep improving.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
This year, I was elected co-president of our building leadership team and am also in charge of state testing for the school. After my first year of teaching, my principal took a job to open a new school (South Hills) and convinced me to come with him. Because of that experience, I am now a part of our amazing school and the opportunities that it offers students. One of our best teachers, Ms. Miller, is developing an amazing PBIS (Positive Behavioral and Interventions Support) program. I have been able to participate in that and am sharing what I’ve learned with Dr. Burrows. Being asked to represent my cohort for this interview is a special achievement in my opinion.