AACT Member Spotlight: Roxanne Spencer

By AACT on April 30, 2019

Sherri rukes aact spotlightEvery month AACT will spotlight a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Roxanne Spencer from Ranney School in Tinton Falls, NJ.

Tell us about yourself...

I have been teaching secondary school chemistry since 2014, first at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, and currently at Ranney School where I am also the Science Department Chair. I have taught a range of classes including advanced placement (AP), honors, and organic chemistry, as well as mentored students in material and synthetic chemistry research. I earned a BS in chemistry from Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida), and an MA and PhD in chemistry from Princeton University.

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

I never knew I wanted to be a high school teacher. As a patent agent, I worked with several small pre-commercial companies in alternative energy and pharma. Unfortunately, start-up companies tend to stop suddenly, and after nearly 15 years, I found myself unemployed. I took the opportunity to re-evaluate, saw an opening for a teaching position at a new STEM high school nearby, and decided to take the chance. Much to my surprise, I found I enjoyed teaching chemistry to teenagers!

How do you monitor the progress of your students? How do you ensure under-performers excel?

I use a variety of techniques, including class discussion, small group work, and manipulative models to teach and assess my students. I’ve come to embrace peer teaching, and regularly have students come to the board to explain concepts and work problems. There is a growing belief that the best way to learn science is to do science, and I incorporate laboratory activities whenever possible. In fact, I weigh lab work equally with formal tests in my overall grading structure.

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

As an adjunct professor, I had a student who was taking organic chemistry for the third time. After we finally had a meeting where she burst out in frustration, “but how do you know what reaction to use?” I realized she didn’t understand what the questions were asking. I learned to never assume that I knew what a student’s problem was, but to listen first. I try to maintain open lines of communication with parents, letting them know when their student is struggling and when doing well.

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

I joined AACT in August 2014 because I wanted to find a community of like-minded educators. Working at a small school, I am often the only chemistry teacher, and often wanted advice that was specific for chemistry. At AACT, there is a wealth of experience to draw upon, and I regularly peruse the lesson plans and Chemistry Solutions for ideas. I think that my teaching has improved through my membership.