AACT Member Spotlight: Scott Valenta
By AACT on October 3, 2023
Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Scott Valenta. He teaches physical science, biology, and earth science at St John the Baptist School in Winfield, IL.
Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
If you asked my past self if I wanted to be a teacher someday, I would have certainly given a firm "No way!" I spent most of my time in school just waiting to go home, why would I ever become a teacher? After my high school graduation, I found myself pretty aimless and not really having a firm direction in life. My old high school biology teacher reached out to me and invited me to observe and see what it was like to be a teacher. She was one of the few teachers who I connected with and would actually get me excited about her class. I observed for a few days, and found that the world of teaching was actually quite different from how I pictured it. I'd love to tell you that I immediately enrolled in university and started my path to becoming a teacher right after that, but things didn't work out that way. Sometimes, the seeds we sow take time to germinate. My life lessons from my experience that I always think about in my classroom:
- You truly can influence and change the lives of your students.
- Things take time.
- Make your class something to be excited about, it might be the only highlight of a student's day.
What are you most proud of in your work?
My goals as a teacher are two-fold: to prepare students for the next level of their scientific education and to get students more passionate and excited about science.
When an alum contacts me and tells me how ready they were for their high school classes, or asks for a letter of recommendation for a summer science program, it's an absolute highlight of my semester. Having that evidence in front of me that I'm meeting my goals as a science teacher feeds my motivation and drive. My student's success is my success. I am so proud of my students!
Why did you become involved with AACT? What are the benefits of being involved?
During my first year of teaching, I had a parent contact me pretty early in the school year about some resources I might find useful. She was a chemistry professor at a university, and as she was a member of ACS, she recommended AACT for their resources, webinars, and grants. I quickly became a member, and honestly, I couldn't recommend it enough to my fellow middle school science teachers. By far, the biggest benefit of getting involved was all the tools and support that increased my confidence in teaching chemistry. Taking it from "How do I even do this?" to one of the highlights of the year.
What is your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your students and their parents?
Something new I tried this year was trying to help bridge the gap between students and parents. Around the middle school level, students seem to really shut down conversations about their academics with their parents. The classic, "What did you do in school today?"/"Nothing." To combat this, I've added a few "Things to ask your student" to all my parental communications. These aren't quiz questions, but rather questions meant to start a conversation about what is going on in class, and can't be answered with a simple yes or no. For example, "What did you notice about the different types of metals and electricity generation from an apple?" The feedback I've received from parents has been outstanding. Parents want their children to learn and be interested in school! Getting your students to actually talk to their parents about what goes on in class fulfills both these goals for parents. Happy parents make excellent cheerleaders for you and will absolutely be some of your biggest supporters.
What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?
I consider staying on top of my scientific education a core component of what it means to be a teacher. My principal can attest I am always trying to attend some professional development, class, or training. When I'm not at one of those, I always have some sort of scientific or pedagogical book in my backpack for any downtime. And, of course, utilizing my memberships to scientific organizations. It's not too hard to stay current when the latest news pops right into my inbox!
What fuels your passion for science and teaching?
A half-joking, half-completely serious answer: Black tea. I'm not sure I could show even half the amount of passion I do without my daily thermos of black tea!