© ilixe48/Bigstockphoto.com

Every week, it seems like I see a joke on Facebook or #teacherlife on social media about the challenges of being a teacher. For example, in September, teachers had lots to say about the Friday the 13th that happened to coincide with a full moon. Admit it: there was definitely something going on with our students that day!

So, if teachers are so tired, exhausted, and overworked, why do we do this job? Being a chemistry teacher is difficult, exhausting work. I often contemplate why I do it, and my answer leads me to say it is because of family — my school family, that is, including my students and the chemistry teaching family as a whole. Colleagues and students make this one of the most rewarding jobs possible. Whether it is that student who stays behind to thank you, the one who returns years later with a wonderful story they still remember from your class, or that colleague who just checks in on you from time to time — teaching has such a valuable impact, and I find that extremely rewarding. I have also found that these connections are the key.

I came into teaching nontraditionally. I went to graduate school to study chemistry and after graduation, taught in Baltimore through the Teach For America program. Next I taught for the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) in North Carolina before becoming extremely burnt-out, and then left the field to work in the Education Division at the American Chemical Society. After seven amazing years, I left ACS to re-enter the classroom, and now teach chemistry at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, FL. I share my unconventional path only to make the point that no matter how you entered teaching or wherever your path has taken you, there is always a way to build connections.

As an undergraduate and graduate student, I was fascinated by education. Each time I went to a conference, I soaked up the knowledge of those in chemical education. I would listen to ideas from all levels of study and tried to create a Rolodex of ideas and individuals whom I encountered. Today, I still have connections that I made at these conferences many years ago!

Conferences are an amazing opportunity to build connections as an educator. ACS national, regional, and local section meetings, NSTA meetings, state science conferences, local workshops, etc. are all opportunities for teachers to interact with their family. I encourage you to take as many opportunities as you can to attend conferences — even if you have to pay for some of them yourself. The potential connections and opportunities that are available during these events are priceless. You can also apply for grants in order to reduce the cost of attendance, and the ACS Hach program is a great resource for this.

As the Division of Chemical Education (DivCHED) representative on the AACT Governing Board this year, I highly recommend attending conference sessions sponsored by DivCHED. Educators from all over the world come together to share their experiences during these sessions. Personally, I always learn something when I go to a session on chemical education, regardless of what grade level it is intended for. DivCHED holds a conference every two years called the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE). The next BCCE will be held July 18-23, 2020 at Oregon State University. These meetings are like “chemistry camp for teachers,” and are so worthwhile to attend.

Another way to build connections — and your network — is to become involved in your ACS local section. By attending meetings of my local sections, I have connected with college professors and industry professionals who are eager to collaborate when they find out that I am a teacher. Additionally, I have made friendships with members in the local section who I can reach out to for help. You can also join an ACS division to build connections, and I highly recommend getting involved in the Division of Chemical Education — they offer invaluable resources, friendships, and connections!

Building a network with the teachers in your community or state is also important. One way that you can do this is through your AACT representative, as well as through the ACS ChemClub Program. The ChemClub Program is free and provides resources to use with students in an extracurricular setting, as well as connections for high school chemistry teachers. My students love the ChemClub activities that we do, and I like knowing that there are other teachers in my community working with their students to build chemistry knowledge and excitement.

I realize that #teacherlife means that we all have very busy schedules and countless tasks, so finding time to build connections can be difficult. An easy way to get started is to become more active in the virtual community, through AACT. You can get involved in many ways, including presenting and attending webinars, contributing teaching resources, connecting with others through the discussion board, or sharing your expertise by submitting an article.

For even more insights, in the November issue of Chemistry Solutions, several teachers share their experiences and expertise on a variety of topics:

Making connections with others in education is a tremendous asset, and only makes you better. Having a network of colleagues means you are never alone, even when you may feel isolated. Meeting teachers is what pulled me back to the classroom, and it continues to inspire me to collaborate with others as much as possible. The Division of Chemical Education wants to continue to inspire teachers of chemistry at all levels, and to share the best research in the field. AACT strives to create a community of teachers by teachers. Remember that you are not alone — and that the people and connections are the reasons that we teach.

Michael MuryMichael Mury
DivCHED Representative

Photo credit:
(article cover) Mirexon/Bigstock.com