November 2016 | Editorial
How a Little Luck and Some Get-Up-and-Go Made Me a Better Teacher
By Roxie Allen
As a teacher of 34 years, I am reflecting on how I got where I am, and how I’ve been able to be involved in chemistry education for so much of my career. I realize that I’ve been lucky, but luck only takes you so far. You also have to join, get involved, and really put yourself out there to go places in any career you choose, especially as a teacher of chemistry.
The Path to Teaching
At first, I never wanted to be a teacher; in fact, I rebelled against the idea when some said I should try it. I had a different path in mind; I was going to save the world! I started in the workforce as a cancer researcher at MD Anderson. But, did you know that HeLa cells don’t carry on a very good conversation? I loved the research, but I missed people.
Little did I know things would quickly change when I moved to West Texas. I found that opportunities for research were few and far between, so I begrudgingly decided to get certified to teach math, of all things. However, I soon found out that I did not have enough credit hours in math to be certified, so my advisor suggested I focus on obtaining certification in chemistry instead. This was my first stroke of good luck! Through this path I was assigned a fabulous mentor teacher, Dan Kallus at Midland High School, for my student teaching internship. He saw potential in me and convinced the school to hire me as a full-time teacher for the following school year.
An important piece of guidance that Dan instilled in me was that I was a professional. And as a professional, I was supposed to go to meetings and learn from the best in the profession in order to fine-tune my skills. Dan was a charter member of the Associated Chemistry Teachers of Texas organization (ACT2). He took me to Austin to the Texas Energy Science Symposium after my very first year of teaching. The week of the symposium, we made crude probes, used floppy disks, and interacted with computers to measure and record data. I also learned to solder and build things! Last but not least, I met some amazing and well-connected chemistry teachers from all over the country. That was LUCK.
Soon thereafter, I moved to Houston, and luck came in bunches. I taught at a magnet school in Houston ISD, where Ken Lyle became my new mentor. He shared stories and lessons that improved not only my teaching, but also my knowledge of chemistry content. Ken and I became very involved in our local chemistry teacher group (Metro Houston Chemistry Teachers Association), our state chemistry teacher group (ACT2), and our state science teacher group (Science Teachers Association of Texas). I also started graduate school, where Mamie Moy served as my graduate advisor. I think everyone needs someone who will push you to try new things. Mamie was that person for me — and it was she who got me involved in the American Chemical Society.
Photo: The 1995 Associated Chemistry Teachers of Texas (ACT2) officers, including Roxie (bottom row, second from right) and Ken Lyle (top row, second from right). (Credit: R. Allen)
Now I’ve been involved for over 25 years. Among other things, Mamie encouraged me to share National Chemistry Week activities with my students and participate in workshops for the Chemistry in the Community curriculum. I gained the confidence to apply for, and was accepted to, workshops and programs like Woodrow Wilson workshops at Princeton and an ICE workshop at Berkeley. All along the way, I was inspired by the dedicated teachers I met and networked with in each opportunity.
When I moved from teaching in public school to a private school, luck even followed me there. I continued to get more involved in ACS, serving with Project SEED and the ACS-Hach scholarship and grant programs. I taught some very smart students, so I applied for the ACS National Chemistry Olympiad mentor program in order to help serve them. I was so lucky to serve with the program’s fabulous mentors, as well as Air Force Academy chemistry personnel. I was given an opportunity to learn so much more chemistry during those four years, and I got to meet chemists from all over the world. Again, that was luck!
Now at this stage of my career, I still consider myself lucky to work with incredible colleagues in my school, city, state, and all across the country. I was lucky enough to be appointed to the AACT governing board two years ago. I keep an open mind, so that I learn something from everyone that I meet. But I have also become someone who encourages the teachers whom I meet to put themselves out there and to get involved, with the hope that I can inspire others in the same way that my mentors inspired me.
Top photo: Through Roxie’s involvement with Project SEED, she received an internship to participate in research at the Shell Technology Center in 2013.
Bottom photo: Roxie with US team competing in the International Chemistry Olympiad in South Korea, 2006.
(Credit: R. Allen)
Sharing Good Luck
So what does this have to do with you, a teacher of chemistry who is reading this article? Before I get to that, however, I know I may be preaching to the choir. After all, if you’re reading this, and you’re already a member of AACT, then I hope you’ve begun to avail yourself of all of the resources that AACT has to offer you. If you are not a member yet, then I hope you will join. We are ALL so lucky that the American Chemical Society recognized a need for this incredible organization that will serve to impact chemistry teachers and students for many years to come. You can find AACT workshops at many state, regional, and national science conferences as well as at chemistry-specific events such as ChemEd and ACS meetings like BCCE.
ACT is poised to bring the best of the best to you! Summer workshops sponsored by Dow and content-writing opportunities like the Ford Chemistry of Cars series provide real-world context to your teaching. The quarterly periodical, Chemistry Solutions has wonderful classroom activities and articles written by practicing teachers.
Just look at what you get THIS month! "Essential Questions" offers a great method of incorporating researched-based, thoughtful discussions into your classroom. If you are looking for ideas for including more meaningful technology into the lab setting, consider using a Wiki or these simple tech strategies. As you plan for teaching upcoming units on reactions and stoichiometry, consider the newest simulation, as well as using colorful writing tools during lecture, or a map to help students with those tricky limiting reactant calculations. Finally, learn from a teacher’s powerful story of transition to the classroom from the corporate world, and her goals for success.
But what do YOU do next? Put yourself out there! I believe that every teacher does something well and has insight to share! With whom have you shared your knowledge? Your colleagues? Your district? What about your state or region? Find an avenue. AACT is a perfect place to start getting involved. Apply to be part of a content-writing team, or share a classroom resource to the library for other K-12 teachers of chemistry. Offer to host a webinar, or share an idea by writing an article for Chemistry Solutions. Write an AACT guest blog post, or offer to write for the Chemical Education Xchange (Chem EdX). Or consider applying for a scholarship like the ACS-Hach programs to help support your professional growth outside of your classroom.
If we all share our best, just think of how much our students will benefit. Sharing best practices makes all of us better teachers. And guess what? It also makes all of our students lucky.
DivCHED Representative, AACT Governing Board