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March 2023 | Editorial
They Need Care: Rebuilding with Connections
By Michael Mury
|Figure 1. Aviator Barrington Irving speaks about his experiences. © NASA, public domain.|
Greetings, fellow chemistry educators! I am excited to spend a few moments with you in this issue of Chemistry Solutions. I am currently serving as the Division of Chemical Education Representative on the 2022-2023 AACT Governing Board, and it is truly an honor. I have been a member of AACT since its inception, and have been a member of the ACS Division of Chemical Education since attaining my B.S. in Chemistry in 1999. Chemistry education, and more importantly, the students and teachers we impact, are what drive me in all I do in my career. Currently I also serve as the High School Science Curriculum Specialist for Polk County Public Schools in Florida.
Recently, I attended a “fly-in” for students: a special occasion when a pilot flies into an airport, gives a presentation for students, and then flies off to the next event. In this case, the presentation was hosted by Captain Barrington Irving (Figure 1), the first African American, and also youngest person ever, to fly solo around the Earth in an airplane.
Irving shared his experience with some of our middle school students, and then he and his team led the students through several science experiments. Watching the joy and awe on students’ faces reminded me about why I became an educator over 20 years ago, and why I still am passionate about it today. Education can change lives and inspire our students to be better.
Rebuilding the heart of learning
COVID, the dreaded pandemic, has taken so much away from all of us, but it truly did a number on our students. Many students lost up to two years of education and social development. They spent months in front of a screen, trying to learn without the caring heart of a teacher or other classmates. Yes, I said it: the heart of their teacher.
Try as teachers might during this challenging time, many of the personal connections that are so essential in a classroom setting were lost. What’s more, when students returned to the school experience they had yearned for, many were now finding that they had forgotten how to navigate and survive in it. So, what does that all mean for educators? Our job is harder, but even more important.
Personally, I believe that building connections with students is essential — and studies are confirming this as well. They need adults who care for them and show an interest in them. Authors from Education Week1, The University of Texas2, PBS3, and others have shared similar opinions. Student exposure to role models over the last few years has been limited, so it is more important that the adults with whom they are in contact show compassion and serve as good role models. As a chemistry nerd myself, I want my students to love the periodic table just as if it were Wuthering Heights or another beloved novel. I also hope that if students see that I care and want the best for them, and that I take time to show them support, they are likely to recognize the passion I have for teaching science, which may in turn positively influence their own interest in the topic.
So how can we achieve this result? Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Greet your students as they enter the classroom. It may seem like a small thing, but your friendly smile or hello may make that student’s entire day.
- Listen to your students. Listen to the small hints they drop about how they are feeling, or what is causing stress. Many students want to share this information, but they also only want to share in a safe place.
- Take note as they talk with their friends. I don’t mean eavesdropping to hear their secrets, but rather, listening to the things they talk about, what they are looking forward to, and what they are interested in.
- Interact with students outside of your classroom. For example, you might decide to occasionally sit with a few students at lunch. Even if they are teenagers and may not admit it, they will enjoy that and will actually open up more to you. In my experience, after I’ve eaten with a student for the first time, I always notice a huge difference in their academic performance and willingness to try new things in class.
- Ask students to share with you a list their extracurricular activities. This strategy has helped me as I’ve tried to attend students’ sporting events, recitals, and performances, or even drop in for a brief visit at a student’s part-time job site.
I promise, the reward you’ll receive for a small amount of effort is priceless. If you keep these things in mind, act on them as you can, and mention them during your lessons, you will build an even greater connection with your students.
A platform for idea sharing
Chemistry Solutions is a great platform to share about your successes, challenges, and tips with the chemistry education community, just as I have. I encourage you to learn more and get involved. In the March issue, you’ll find stories from several wonderful teachers both here in the U.S. and around the world:
- First, gain insight from a teacher who shares about her recent struggle to balance curriculum requirements and pacing with the opportunity to provide real lab experiences for students. Ending a particularly difficult school year with a student-led research project was just what she and her students needed to regain their love of learning.
- Another high school teacher discusses her use of at-home lab activities and virtual labs to supplement and support in-class labs. She includes examples, benefits, and different approaches that aim to extend the overall lab experience.
- Learn about the motivation for and impact of a Girls in STEM club from an award-winning teacher who developed this extracurricular opportunity in her school nearly a decade ago.
- Hear from a chemistry educator in the Philippines who shares about the many challenges she and her colleagues have faced in recent years, and how they aspire to be solution-focused.
The focal point
More than ever, we need educators to focus on the whole student, so that they can perform to their best potential. As a teacher, try to be intentional in your actions, stay present for your students, and ensure that they feel they are in a safe, positive space for learning. The energy put forth to make connections with students today will continuously improve the future.
We choose to be educators to help students grow and succeed, making them better informed citizens. We can all do this. Thank you all for taking the time to be world-class educators, and being there for our kids! YOU ARE ALL HEROES!
1. Prothero, A. How to Build Relationships with Students during COVID-19. Education Week [Online] Sept 20, 2020. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/how-to-build-relationships-with-students-during-covid-19/2020/09 (accessed Feb 17, 2023).
2. University of Texas at Austin. Groundbreaking Study: Relationship Building is Key to Schools’ Post-Pandemic Success. Texas Education web page [Online] July 13, 2021. https://education.utexas.edu/news/2021/07/13/groundbreaking-study-relationship-building-key-schools-post-pandemic-success (accessed Feb 17, 2023).
3. Jackman, C. 7 Ways Teachers & School Leaders Can Support Students in a (Post) Pandemic Year. PBS Teachers Lounge [Online] Sept 16, 2021. https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/7-ways-teachers-school-leaders-can-support-students-in-a-post-pandemic-year (accessed Feb 17, 2023).
(article cover) bsd555/Bigstock.com