AACT Member Spotlight: Chris Coker

By AACT on February 1, 2024

Chris Coker

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Chris Coker. He teaches chemistry, physics and AP Chemistry at Camden Fairview High School in Camden, AR.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a native Texan, born in Dallas, TX and grew up in the east Texas community of Cross Roads. I went to a small rural school with a graduating class of 34. I had a journeyman route to college. I went to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens then transferred to Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in Magnolia, AR to play football. I majored in general sciences with a minor in social studies with a coaching endorsement. I later got a master's degree from SAU in Secondary Education and an Educational Leadership certificate. I have been married to my wife for 25 years. We have 4 daughters, 9 grandbabies, and a great-grandbaby on the way. I have taught and coached at Camden Fairview High School in Camden, AR for 25 years. I have taught AP chemistry, chemistry, accelerated chemistry, environmental science, physical science, meteorology, and astronomy at various points during these years. My main and consistent subjects have been chemistry, accelerated chemistry, and AP chemistry. I am the head junior football coach, the head cross country coach, and the head senior boys track coach. I also do adjunct work for SAU Tech in science classes and adjunct work for SAU for educational classes. I also substitute bus drive for our district in the mornings.

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

We were asked to write an essay in my concurrent credit composition class while I was in high school. I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career after graduation. I was heavily influenced by two teachers at my school who taught math and science, Mr. and Mrs. Holt. She taught math, and he taught sciences. I always enjoyed their classes and dedication to the students. I was heavily into all things athletics at my school, so I decided I would like to try and teach and coach. I really enjoyed the sciences and loved hands-on labwork, so I decided science was the subject I would concentrate on while also attaining my coaching certificate.

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

It is funny that my passion is now chemistry. I tell my students that I completely understand their frustrations with the difficult subject matter. I tell them I enjoyed it so much in college I took it twice. Some get it, some don't. When I was contacted about the teaching job, I remember vividly Camden Fairview saying they heard I taught chemistry. I replied that they heard wrong. It was the last subject I was willing to student teach--it still gave me fits. When I went to my interview they told me I would be teaching chemistry, AP, and honor chemistry. I thought, OK, AP (anatomy and physiology) I can deal with that, but why did they give me two chemistry books? We did not have AP in Cross Roads. I then found out AP stood for advanced placement--OH BOY! I actively looked for a more qualified candidate, but no luck. So with training here and there, I gradually gained more confidence in my chemistry. When my high school joined AIMS (Advanced Initiative for Math and Science), my real training began. A brilliant lady named Renee McCormick had done videos that went along with the AP chemistry lessons, and I watched them religiously. Needless to say, I have grown exponentially in my confidence, even becoming an AP chemistry reader for the College Board. I can not see myself doing anything else. I wake up and can't wait to get to school and teach and continue to learn.

    Why did you become involved with AACT? What are the benefits of being involved?

    I have peers who were part of AACT and suggested I join for the vast resources. I am extremely glad that I joined. I have benefited greatly from the networking, articles, activities, labs, and webinars that are part of membership. These resources have made me a better teacher and my students directly benefit from my membership.

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

    Involvement with athletics by being a coach has been one of the best ways I have grown relationships. I get to coach them while they are younger and teach them when they are older. I have a first-hand knowledge of their interests. Not everyone is or can be a coach, but showing interest--not just interest, genuine interest--in their activities, feelings, and events. It takes effort but pays exponential dividends in the classroom. Just saying hi and good morning, and asking questions to gain interest helps, but it must be authentic or it is just white noise. The one thing the kids are good at is spotting fake people.

    What topic do you find hardest for students? How do you teach it?

    I have found that mathematics has become a harder and harder topic in my world at Camden Fairview. I have found, especially since COVID, that kids are struggling with what we think may be simple topics. I have found out that my kids have a tough time solving algebraic equations. Instead of complaining and blaming, we just start from scratch and begin solving single-variable problems. The other thing kids have a hard time with is communicating the mini heart attack at the end of any question. The why, justify or explain cardiac arrest. We practice with whiteboards using CER methods and modeling. My kids want to tell me a fact, but not how that fact justifies the reason. We work on this almost every day.

    How do you monitor the progress of your students? How do you ensure underperformers excel?

    We are a PLC school, so the science department uses data collection of common formative assessments to monitor progress. If students are falling behind or need extra help, our school is lucky enough to have built in an RTI time, about 30 minutes, that we pull kids in for enrichment or reinforcement. We call this time Cardinal Academy, CA, and it is a software platform that pulls students electronically for these enrichment or retention sessions.

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

    I subscribe to various organizations, such as AACT, NSTA, and Texas Instruments and receive publications and electronic correspondence. I try to use as much technology in the classroom as possible to prepare my students. Networking among peers that I have met through conferences, workshops, and trainings. I also actively seek out meaningful professional development. In our day and time, I also keep up to date on social media for ideas and activities.

    What are you most proud of in your work?

    I am extremely proud of the teacher that I have become through my training in AIMS, College Board, Vernier, and Texas Instruments training. I feel that with the abilities and knowledge that I have gained, I can better prepare my students for the college work, life skills, and technology needs that will be needed when they leave my classroom and high school. I am never prouder than when a student comes back to visit and tells me how much better they were prepared for their college coursework because of the curriculum, rigor, and activities that they received while in my classes.

    What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

    My students' success fuels my passion. It is never more rewarding than when a student comes back and lets you know they were successful in college because of something you did or the way you taught in your classroom. The look on kids' faces in your classroom that finally make the connection to content, and have their AHA! or light bulb moment.

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

    How to persevere.

    If you could pass on one word of wisdom to other chemists what would it be?

    Always strive for better. Continue to learn and ask questions. Pick the brains of those peers you trust and admire.