The August 26 deadline for applying to the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy is fast approaching. To highlight the benefits of being accepted into the program, former Academy Fellows share how the experience has had a positive impact on both their own practice and the achievement of their students. In this first blog post in the series, we highlight a conversation we had with Ryan Rudkin, an 8th-grade physical science teacher and Science Olympiad advisor at Rolling Hills Middle School in Eldorado Hills, CA. Rudkin was an Academy Fellow from 2008 to 2009.
Q: What compelled you to apply to the New Science Teacher Academy?
A: Being paired up with a veteran science teacher through e-mentoring was of great interest to me. At the time, my district mentor was a history teacher. She was wonderful, and she had 20 years of teaching experience, but she wasn’t a science teacher, so she didn’t know my curriculum. As a Fellow, I also knew I’d be given access to NSTA’s vast web-based resources, such as podcasts and webinars. The opportunity to attend the NSTA national conference was also a bonus. It was the first time I’d ever attended a science teachers’ conference. I was like a kid in the candy store! I had the opportunity to attend an all-day professional development workshop. The monetary value of this Fellowship—the fact that I didn’t have to pay for anything—was amazing. After the fellowship ended, I decided to keep up my NSTA membership on my own.
Q: Can you describe the ways in which this professional development opportunity differed from others you’ve experienced?
A: A lot of times in school districts, every teacher goes to the same in-service training. This is why I think that many teachers frown upon in-service days because they think that the professional development that’s being offered by the district is a waste of their time. We give our students an aspect of choice so it should be the same for teachers: Being able to choose the PD that we need.
As a Fellow, I had access to a range of webinars and podcasts offered on the NSTA website. I could pick what I needed from a specific list. If I needed a topic refresher, for example, it was tailored to what I needed. I wasn’t forced to do professional development that was not relevant. I really liked the idea that I was able to choose what I wanted to do—or needed to do.
Q. How did you balance the demands of being a classroom teacher with your commitment to participating in this yearlong program?
A. You can put as much time into being a Fellow as you want. The webinars, for example, are all archived on the NSTA website, so if you were not able to participate in the live event, you could download it later. The mentoring was offered online so my mentor and emailed each other back and forth a few times a week. I didn’t find my experience to be too time consuming and/or distracting from my primary responsibilities as a classroom teacher. As in all things, the more you put into the experience, the more you are going to get from it.
Q. How has being an NSTA Fellow improved your practice?
A. The experience was a huge boost to my confidence: I learned that it’s okay to ask for questions, to ask for help. If I couldn’t figure something out, or I wanted specific information on a topic, then I knew that I had a wealth of resources to help me out. Being a Fellow also gave me great time management skills. I knew that I had to maximize my time during the day and finish my classroom work if I wanted to take advantage of an important professional development opportunity—like a webinar that night.
Q. How have your students benefited from your participation?
A. I think they’ve benefited from me becoming very confident with my curriculum as well as being okay with admitting that I didn’t know something—and that I needed to ask others for advice and answers instead of winging it or faking it. We want students to ask questions, so why shouldn’t we encourage educators to do likewise?
Q. After serving as a Fellow, what do you think is the single biggest impact this had on your career as a science teacher?
A. For me, it was the knowledge that I wasn’t all alone. If I needed help in any way, help was there for me. My love of learning grew by being in the program—and I was able to share that love of learning with my students. So many colleagues grump and complain—and the students know whether or not you like what you are doing. Sharing your excitement for the subject matter…I think that’s half the battle. Being a Fellow definitely added to my excitement.
Q. If given the chance, what would you say to science teachers who are considering this program?
A. Why wouldn’t you sign up? It’s a complete win-win. It adds to your experience as a teacher, to your classroom, to your PD, to your resume….There is really no reason to not apply. I wish I knew more new science teachers. I had a student teacher; I encouraged her to apply after she finishes her first year of teaching. I think it’s an amazing opportunity; there’s just no reason to not apply. There is such a huge wealth of experience and resources at your disposal—for free. It’s definitely an experience that you’ll remember.
For the application, more testimonials, eligibility requirements, and more, visit www.nsta.org/academy.