I love biology in general, and evolutionary science in particular. As a biology major in college, I came to understand how evolution truly ties together all branches of the biological sciences. I find great comfort and peace in the concept that we are connected to all of nature, and by extension, to the entire universe. My passion for the natural world has lead me to many of our planet’s most beautiful ecosystems, from the deep pockets of Amazon jungle and the grasslands of Africa, to the ice shelves of Antarctica and the coral reefs of Australia.
When I went on to pursue a master’s degree in science education, I maintained my focus on evolution and ecology. But as a middle school science teacher, I often find myself having to teach concepts that are well beyond my area of expertise, such as meteorology and Newton’s laws of motion. During these units, I strive to stay a chapter ahead of my students, learning the differences among a solution, colloid, and suspension, as I go.
I have been a teacher for 25 years, and I know that my experiences are not unique. Middle school science teachers are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades. But it is simply impossible to be an expert in all of science. Competent? Sure. But expert? Not possible. And the difference between being just competent and being an expert comes out when you teach. A few years ago, I found myself team-teaching with an exceptional educator, Mary Martinez. She loved geology and had an extensive rock and mineral collection at her disposal. I learned the intricate wonders of minerals right alongside the children. I had taught this unit many times before, but Ms. Martinez’s clear passion and enthusiasm made it seem like new material.
I realized that year that we teach best what we know and love best. Our knowledge of a subject leads to our own enthusiasm for it, and this makes a significant difference in our students’ learning process. Passion is contagious. I should have come to this realization earlier. Early in my career, I was teamed up with one of my district’s shining stars, Ms. Patricia Soto. Her passion was teaching, and her focus was on hands-on inquiry. Ms. Soto could captivate a room full of eleven-year-olds regardless of the subject matter. Two decades later, I still find myself employing her strategies and echoing her words.