March 2019 | Editorial
By Heather Weck
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher like my dad. I learned in 1st grade that only the teachers had the privilege of using colored chalk. My career path was sealed!
Sadly, those colorful calcium carbonate writing tools I loved have been replaced by dry-erase markers, in four standard colors. I always shell out a few extra dollars, and order purple. More color makes me happy!
Nearly 20 years ago, I taught my first blue-haired 10th grader. She had a bright personality in addition to her brightly-colored hair, and added some much-needed diversity to the classroom. Dressed in my preppy clothes and sensible shoes, I thought, “We’re so different.” But she was creative and shared her poetry with me — and she also liked science. She also showed me that there are better reasons to be excited about teaching than colored chalk.
Two years into my career, I switched schools to be in my dream location, in suburban Philadelphia. This school district, where I continue to teach, has high expectations of both students and teachers. I was tenuously finding my footing when, two months in, I had vision troubles: the color red appeared greyed-out. I was soon diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Though the disease has been trying at times, it continually teaches me to focus on less, so I am able to do more. (Yoga also helped with this lesson.)
Early in my career, I coached cheerleading and advised different clubs. But more recently, I had to make a conscious decision not to spread myself too thin. Now I focus on being a chemistry teacher. I attend workshops (on such topics as POGIL, phenomena-based learning, and diversity training) and webinars. I also read. And rest. A lot.
There are times I am green with envy, because it seems everyone else is doing more and being more. We compare and contrast daily in chemistry class, finding elements that are most similar, or properties that distinguish one compound from another. However, I’ve found comparing and contrasting ourselves with other teachers is not always a valuable practice.
A colorful classroom
Color-coded and numbered classroom folders.
I literally use color to manage my classroom. I use a system where each student in a class is assigned a certain numbered folder; each class has a different-colored stack of folders. Every day I “stuff” the folders with materials needed for class. Students pick up their folders as they walk in the room. Any folders left in the pile belong to my absent students — making it an easy attendance tracker! Materials are left in the folders of absent students, so they get all their missed work upon their return. Students also submit homework and quizzes in the folders. Since students pick up their folders at the start of the next class, it forces me to assess work and provide feedback in a timely manner.
Beyond colorful folders and hair dyes, I love the more varied skin colors I see in my classroom due to my district’s increased racial and ethnic diversity. I am grateful for a teacher training I attended at the start of my career that rebuked the use of the phrase, “I don’t see color.” Of course, “seeing color” and instantly connecting it to stereotypes is awful. But, to do the opposite — to ignore race — minimizes the whole-child perspective for students of color. In some cases, skin color elicits understanding of rich cultural experiences and heritage; in all cases, it is part of who our kids are. My thoughts have shifted from “I don’t see color,” to “I see you for who you are.”
At the Delaware Valley Dow Teacher Summit in 2017, I met a fellow participant and local chemistry teacher named Lindsay. She and I hit it off, and I enjoyed her vibrant personality. The lead-up to the summit involved developing and writing lesson plans for AACT, as well as peer editing those lesson plans developed by other participants. All of this was done via an online meeting forum. I am far from the generation of technology natives, but I appreciate being placed outside my comfort zone and needing to figure out the process, because it helps me empathize with my students.
I felt honored to participate in the Dow Teacher Summit and have the opportunity to be in the presence of intelligent, driven, and kind colleagues. Next week, Lindsay and I are scheduled to meet for coffee to talk shop (and shopping!). She’ll be the person in the café chatting with everyone and smiling wide. Though Lindsay has always loved science, she reminds me of the types of students I most encourage to go into the field, even if they haven’t considered pursuing chemistry in college. When the students ask “Why?,” I tell them that chemistry can use all the personality it can get!
A quick guide to this issue
In this issue of Chemistry Solutions, you can find a wide variety of colorful articles, including one written by my friend, Lindsay. Learn about the exciting T-shirt chromatography activity she uses with her students. Another fellow Dow Teacher Summit participant and dear friend, Melanie Wills, shares about her recent focus on retrieval practice in the classroom. Those of you teaching in NGSS states will find Jennifer Smith’s journey to incorporating storylining in her flipped classroom very interesting. If you are looking for ideas about how to challenge your students’ problem-solving skills, read Dan Dulek’s article for inspiration. You’ll also be motivated to spark student interest and investigation through the use of demos when you read about Magic Monday.
As technology continues to increase its presence in the classroom, I find myself looking for new ways to leverage it in a valuable way. If you find yourself in this position, read about the collaborative efforts of two high school teachers to build a YouTube library of videos to help support students outside of the classroom. This issue is rounded out by AACT Middle School Ambassador Laura Celik, who shares about her somewhat unplanned journey to becoming a teacher. I am certain that every teacher has a valuable and colorful story to share, so I encourage you to get involved, and contribute to this growing community by writing an article, starting a discussion, or sharing a favorite teaching tip.
When the opportunity to run for AACT president came up in 2018, I took it — because I was impressed with the organization and felt I was in a place in my career where I could dedicate the necessary time to the commitment. I am so appreciative that I was elected. I am enjoying the new perspectives and challenges that accompany this role. The AACT staff with whom I work closely — Adam, Jenn, and Kim — are amazing. So, too, are the governing board members. I find inspiration and motivation in them.
I am grateful that I am at a point where appreciating our differences no longer comes with a side of intimidation on my part. I have interacted with many great teachers through AACT, and none of them was identical to any other. Their personalities, leadership styles, and approaches to teaching were as varied and beautiful as the colors of the rainbow: ROY G BIV. (The experts say indigo was never its own color, but more color makes me happy, so I’m sticking with it.)
President-Elect, AACT Governing Board
(article cover) Giraphics/Bigstock.com