AACT Member Spotlight: Jesse Bernstein

By AACT on September 1, 2020

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Jesse Bernstein. Jesse is the current AACT President and Governing Board chair. He is a retired chemistry teacher who taught at Miami Country Day School in Miami, Florida.

Tell us about yourself.

You can probably guess that I love chemistry and teaching chemistry! I truly enjoy working not just with students and teachers but with the community, sharing my knowledge that I have picked up along the way. Life would be dull without all of that. I have a love for family. I'm also a sports fan and participant in baseball, softball, basketball, ice hockey, and football. I enjoy reading historical fiction and detective novels. Every now and then I will cook breakfast or dinner. Cooking a meal is my way of doing chemistry at home.

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

I believe that my enjoyment with doing chemistry can be traced back to the day I got my Gilbert Chemistry Set when I was about 10 years old. Doing experiments with the materials in that set was mind-expanding. Not only was I able to try experiments that were written for children but, with a little bit of ingenuity, I was able to purchase some chemicals from, our neighborhood drug store (you can't do that anymore!) that allowed me to expand my ability to experiment. I was hooked on science and chemistry in particular. For these reasons I have always included hands-on experimentation in my science courses and have been very careful about the chemicals and equipment that are made available to students. Safety of students has always been of utmost importance.

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

My research advisor used to say that the enjoyment of chemistry is pitting you against the elements. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. I would add to the enjoyment aspect when I see the expression on a student's face when, after struggling to understand a concept, the student finally gets the concept; that is, the bulb lights up!

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

The topic of acid-base chemistry and, in particular, combining it with stoichiometry has always proved to be difficult for students. I found that looking at the reaction as one would any other reaction in combination with the use of an ICE Table and, what some refer to as a RICE Table (reaction, initial concern, change in concentration, and equilibrium concentration) always seemed to make problem solving easier but not necessarily easy.

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

I found that one needs to be honest, compassionate, considerate, and understanding. Chemistry is not the most important thing going on in student's lives. There has to be a balance between academics and the social aspects of teenagers. As well, we need to let students know that they have to learn to accept responsibility for their actions just as I had to demonstrate that I had to accept responsibility for my actions to my students and their parents.

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

Although retired, I remain active in AACT, ACS, and NSTA, along with being on the board of our local ACS Section. Further, I work with students and faculty of our local universities. As a Science Coach I am able to work with a local 3rd-grade teacher and her students over the past several years as well as contributing to two museums in South Florida during Nation Chemistry Week and National Earth Week. All of these activities keeps me abreast of what is going on in the world of science.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am extremely proud of what my former students have accomplished both in the science fields as well as those students who, although they did not consider themselves scientists, accomplished so much as a person who improved their ability to think and reason logically, to make informed decisions.

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

Analytics, responsibility, empathy.

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

Three things that I have learned over many years being both a student and a teacher is that one learns from others, from having made mistakes and correcting them, and that it is important to give back to the community. My involvement in AACT from inception has been one of learning from other teachers as well as giving back to our community through contributions of articles, offering assistance with programs, and serving on our Governing Board.

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

Do what you do because you love what you are doing.