AACT Member Spotlight: Anjana Iyer

By AACT on March 2, 2021

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Anjana Iyer. She teaches chemistry at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, New Jersey.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been teaching Chemistry for the past 10 years at Hillsborough High School in NJ. I primarily teach College Prep inclusion and pull-out resource classes. I am also a club advisor at my high school for an inclusion club called P.A.L.S., which is a safe socializing place for special education self-contained students and general education students. I was recently appointed as a consultant for the AACT’s governing board, a selection I consider a huge honor. I enjoy shopping for science apparel, and you will often spot me “twinning” with my co-teacher. I also love to cook; I follow food bloggers on social media, and I try many new recipes. I enjoy yoga, walking outside, and running on my treadmill. I am more of an introvert. I enjoy spending time with my two teenagers and husband and binge-watching random shows on Netflix.

Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

I did not always want to be a teacher, but I loved science. The technology industry was booming in the early 2000s. I majored in Chemistry and Computer Science in college and I started my career as a Java programmer for a warehouse management company. I later quit my job to be with my children and started volunteering at local schools and in the community. I was involved in a community program called "Operation Bookworm," where I helped students who were reading below their grade level with strategies to enjoy reading. One of the elementary teachers in that program encouraged me to pursue this as a formal career, so I enrolled myself in a full-time master’s program at the College of New Jersey. I graduated with a dual degree in teaching Special Ed & General Education. It only made sense to combine my passion for science and interest in helping students who struggle. Ten years later, I believe that I have found my place. I love being a teacher and wouldn’t change anything with my life!

Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.

I was a peer mentor in middle school. Every week I volunteered in the self-contained classroom and worked with students with disabilities. One such student was a girl who had Down Syndrome. She became my best friend and I loved hanging out with her. That probably was a seed for my passion for teaching students with special needs!

What is your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your students and their parents?

Every marking period, I send emails to at least five students in each of my classes appreciating them for their effort. These emails need not be grade-related; it could be as simple as a student writing their best reasoning for a CER or a student helping a struggling classmate. I usually send a copy of the email to their parents and guidance counselors. My goal is, in a class of 25 students, every student should get that email at least once before they end their year with me. I also send weekly summaries to parents describing what we learned in chemistry that week. Many parents appreciate it, as teenagers often do not share what they learn in high school.

What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?

I am a member of various science communities besides AACT and ACS, such as the NSTA and AMTA. These organizations provide plenty of opportunities for professional growth through their conferences, webinars, journals, magazines, and listserv. I also keep myself updated by reading books suggested by other educators. My co-teacher and I try to attend and present in as many conferences as we can, including ChemEd, NSTA, and NJ Science conventions (that's our secret getaway every summer!). I am also very grateful for the wonderful PLN on #ChemTwitter. The number of teachers on there is endless, and there is always something new to be learned from everyone. In the last two years, I have become a better teacher due to all the wonderful ideas people willingly share. Last spring, when the pandemic started, a Chemistry teacher on Twitter from IL, whom I have never spoken to before, sent us her equilibrium lab videos. Teachers are truly amazing. When you create a strong, like-minded PLN of teachers, it is easy to bring the latest science into the classroom. Collaboration and learning together are the key ingredients to remain current.

What are you most proud of in your work?

My happiness and pride lie in the growth of my students. I am proud that my students in the pull-out resource classes learn the same chemistry concepts as the students in college preparatory classes. Their pacing might be slower, but I have never watered down my teaching for them. I am very lucky to be working and coteaching with a wonderful science teacher, Catherine Zavacki in my inclusion classes. Cathy and I were honored by NJCIE (New Jersey Coalition of Inclusive Education) as the Best Inclusion Teachers in 2019. Cathy and I have been co-teaching for seven years, and we share the same pedagogical philosophy: all students can learn science. I am proud of our work in the classroom and beyond the classroom. We have published articles in Chem 13 News and AACT, and presented in various conferences.

In three words, what would your students say they learned from you?

Patience, kindness, and respect.