Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.A. Psychology; MAT, Secondary Science Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Noyce Teaching Fellow
Name of Noyce institution:
Salish Kootenai College
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Ronan High School; Ronan (MT) School District No. 30; Earth and Space Science, Chemistry, Physics, AP Environmental Science, Montana Natural History
What made you decide to become a teacher?
While working in IT for a school district, I took an opportunity to make additional money by tutoring English Language Learner elementary students. I quickly discovered that working with students provided a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment that I didn’t know I was missing. I enjoyed and still enjoy working with technology but missed the personal connections integral to teaching. I also saw it as an opportunity to put skills to use that I once thought disparate. I have a degree in psychology, a background in multi-cultural studies, a passion and work experience in the technology field, and a desire to make a difference in the world. Teaching allowed me to take all my skills and attempt to use them in ways that feed my soul and nourish my community.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently live and teach in the school and town where I grew up–all the way down to teaching in the same room where I attended high school science classes. My community in Ronan is rural yet has a diverse collection of cultures. We live on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana, home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Most of our students are Native American or of Native American descent; however, we also have a large population of non-native students due to the reservation, at one time, being open to homesteading. As a result, we have great pride in our school community’s emphasis on culture and improving our connections to our families and their cultures. In addition, the reservation is home to Salish Kootenai College, which brings in tribal students from across the United States and thus a large diversity of tribal representation.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program at my college emphasized issues such as equity, diversity, and diverse cultural connections, which strengthened my ability to teach in a rural reservation setting. It also provided a group of like-minded educators across the United States to whom I could look for inspiration and support.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
My school, Salish Kootenai, a tribal community college, emphasizes culturally sustaining and responsive practices in all aspects of life. I feel that they gave me a holistic view of my students, that they are diverse and widely vary in cultural learning, and to never take those things for granted. I also teach in Montana, which has a mandate for all schools to teach IEFA (Indian Education for All), which helps drive an understanding within the teaching field of these diverse peoples and cultures. I use project and place-based education when teaching in cross-cultural settings. I try to have many hands-on and sense-making activities to get the students working together and engaged with the content. Students may vary significantly in their cultural connection to place, self, and others, but I try to have them create a sense of community within the classroom with a definite purpose and an impact on the larger community. I am developing my ability to teach project-based and place-based lessons. However, I have a lot to learn on best supporting my students so they are the centers of learning.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I continually refer to teaching methods and tools utilized or demonstrated during my teacher education program. Perhaps the most significant realization of my first years of teaching was that having a diverse toolbag to pull from was essential as no two students or classes are identical. In my opinion, the more comprehensive the range of teaching strategies, the greater the odds that a teacher will find something that “works” for students. I have also found that having the courage and trust in my students to try new avenues of teaching allows me to adapt and better meet their needs. This openness helps create a relationship and connection in my classroom, which I find critical to successful learning, as they see me trying to adapt to meet their needs. Of course, it isn’t always successful, but I feel that my students witnessing those errors is also critical to their education; after all, what is learning without mistakes?
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 have challenged myself each year while teaching. The confidence I obtained from my teacher education program, teaching, and the Noyce program have all been driving factors in making those decisions. For example, I have taken part in many different programs/groups, among them, SCAPE (Sustainable communities and Place-Based education), NWF (National Wildlife Foundation) EcoSchools Program, Running Start, Flathead Reservation School Garden Network, Ronan High School Building Leadership Team, and teaching AP Environmental Science, Montana Natural History, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth and Space Science.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
I was awarded several grants for our Montana Natural history class. These include funding from Running Strong and the National Wildlife Federation, allowing me to continue developing a Montana Natural History class at Ronan High School. My co-worker, Chris Biske, created the field work class, and we continue to build on it to reflect the interests of our students and the resources in our area. I have also been a part of several groups in the area that I am proud of as they strive to impact our local community; these include the Flathead Reservation School Garden Network and the Flathead Reservation Education Support Hub (FRESH).