Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.

Henry Brooks Adams

Teaching has been one of the most important and honored professions since the beginning of history. Through observation, trial and error, and experimentation, teachers—including elders and others—have passed down vital information from generation to generation. This is still true today and this month, August 2015, marks the beginning of another school year here in the US where over 250,000 science teachers (approximately 78,000* of these being high school life science and biology teachers) will enter their classrooms.

Why do we teach? We do it for the same reasons that so many generations have done before us—to pass on crucial information we have gathered in our lifetime. We want to share knowledge about life, living organisms and their interconnections. We want our students to understand why it's so important to take care of our environment. This was such an important topic that we asked the NABT Board of Directors to share their thoughts on why they teach. Their responses are found below.

President-Elect Bob Melton

The beginning of a new school year has always been an exciting time for me. It is always full of hope, promise, and the allure of the challenge ahead. The real challenge is that of reaching out to a diverse set of individuals and discerning the ways to engage each one of them in the practices of science and immerse them in the thinking and discourse that is modern science. How can I develop independent thinkers, creative problems solvers, and functional collaborators in a group of individuals who are connected only by time, place and the common requirement for a credit in Biology I? This is the excitement that wakes me up in the middle of each night for two weeks prior to the start of school and sustains me through the end of May as I search for just the right circumstance, just the right question, and just the right scenario that carefully and deliberately opens the door to insight and further discovery for each student. If I play it correctly, the academic struggle my students experience will provide them with the resolve and the experience to push through the difficulties of school and life that all of us experience. These are things no standardized test can provide because it is what TEACHERS do.

Secretary-Treasurer Harry McDonald

My dad was in Vietnam when I was in high school. I relied on several great teachers to be in loco parentis. By my senior year I decided on a career in teaching. I wanted to make as positive a contribution to future generations as my teachers had made for me. I chose biology as the thing I most wanted to share and I felt society would benefit if more individuals used evidence in decision-making. I sought to foster that by promoting a rational approach to life and our collective decisions. I hear many teachers object to all the curricular changes over the years, and I tried to fight that feeling. Change meant a potentially better way to help my students develop. As a scientist, I was comfortable with the idea that evidence would guide me in continuing or ceasing any implementation. With each new idea I felt I grew and my students benefited. I can't say I succeeded with all students, but I received enough complements and thank you's over the years to make me feel good about my efforts. Just last night I was having dinner out and a former student from the 80's approached and said I had inspired him to a career in science. What's not to love?

Past-President Stacey Kiser

Teaching keeps me connected with new discoveries that impact Introductory Biology curriculum. My science colleagues here at Lane Community College feel the same way. We reinforce each other's interests and ask potential colleagues to tell us how they keep up with their field. We learn from each other and break down traditional boundaries amongst the science disciplines. But I have to admit; I love learning from my students the best. It can be easy to detach and teach the same thing every year, especially if you teach at a community college with very limited funds and space to support research and professional development. The national recommendations to provide undergraduate research opportunities to all Introductory Biology students helps make the argument that we all need to practice science, even at two year colleges. It takes work, but the pay-off is learning from your students. They generate new data and present it to our community. We have all had that moment when we hear something new and wish for a time machine so we could go back and insert that new information into a past class. My hope is that my former students are life-long learners and will discover it on their own.

Board Member Liz Cowles

I teach because I want to open students' minds, and help them recognize what they are capable of doing. I help them to relish the great joy of discovering something new each day; reading Sigma Xi's Science in the News daily (which I distribute to my colleagues and students) helps keep my courses current. Every class, every laboratory, every discussion section is a new learning opportunity for both the instructor and the student; don't waste these, because you can always improve your own instruction! I try hard to be a positive supporter and not a negative detractor by praising what is done well, and using constructive criticism to correct mistakes or misconceptions. Our department fosters a learning environment. Anyone can attend a journal club, the biweekly seminars, and be a member of the biology club. We refuse to let the education that we provide our students limit their creativity; all students are encouraged to do independent research projects. The payoff may not be immediately evident, but come years later. An alumna (and a new college faculty member) wrote “I don't know if I ever told you this, but you are the reason that I wanted to teach instead of pursuing a research/industry position.” An educator's reward is not in the present, but in the future.

Board Member Chris Monsour

I like science, no I love science, I love to learn, and I love to share the natural world with my students. I teach all levels of biology, from intro to AP and I wouldn't have it any other way. Understanding biology is such an essential part of being human and I think students have not had the chance to be curious, to explore, or to question. Instead of students thinking about what the future holds, their destiny, they are more focused on their TESTiny, what the test score will say. Each day I take the opportunity to share my love of biology with students. We as teachers do not realize that one bad experience can have such a lasting effect on students. Not being able to handle setbacks is crippling our students. I am not sure where this occurs, but I work each day to make sure they have the best possible learning experience in my classroom and learn the importance of falling flat on their face and getting back up again. We explore, we get dirty, we ask questions, but in the end, we all learn. I use we, because I learn just as much from them, as they from me. This is why I teach.

Board Member Sherry Annee

I teach with intention. What does this mean? Mary Oliver offers some perspective in her poem, “The Sunflowers,” when she proclaims:

Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy.

As teacher-leaders, we are compelled to identify and nurture each student's gifts and talents—our curriculum serves as the vector—so as to help them turn “their lives into a celebration.” To accomplish this, I strive to see each child through the eyes of his or her parents, which required two elements: Each child in my care must be loved and known. Honoring the sacred trust between teacher, student, and parent allows us to engage in meaningful, healthy relationships and, as all teacher-leaders know, this is the place where anything becomes possible.

For all the diversity of ideas we share many common denominators/threads as life science teachers. First of all we have a love of our subject—Biology! We have a desire to impart this love and enthusiasm to our students. We have a desire to utilize the best pedagogy possible allowing for exploration, creativity, questioning and other means to develop in students an understanding of the nature and process of science. We also desire to learn from our students. These are just some of the reasons we teach! Yes, it's going to be a great year for biology and life science educators! As you return to your classroom, remember why YOU teach. And let NABT be the first to say that we thank you for everything you will do to teach the best possible biology and life science to all your students.

*Based on data form the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (http://www.horizon-research.com/2012nssme/)

Jane P. Ellis
NABT President — 2015