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.
Today’s guest blog post is written by Cheska Lorena, a science teacher at the Brighter Choice Charter Middle School in Albany NY. Lorena was an Academy Fellow during the 2012-2013 school year.
I remember well when (and why) I decided to apply to become a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. I was a first-year teacher—and the only science teacher—in an inner city, single-gender middle school. My responsibilities included creating curriculum maps for two grade levels and stocking a brand new laboratory. While very supportive, my administrators and colleagues couldn’t provide me with the specific help and advice I needed as a science teacher.
Before I became a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow, I felt isolated and alone in my department. Teachers experience many on-the-job situations that cannot be taught in college, and there were questions that I couldn’t ask my teammates because they didn’t have a science background, such as classroom management in a laboratory setting, or designing effective and true inquiry lessons and labs. At the Academy, I had instant access to many mentors, ideas, and instructional materials. Unlike other PD workshops and in-service trainings, I was more engaged in my learning. I spent my time reading, researching, discussing, and sharing ideas on topics that really mattered to me with other science educators. My work with the Academy transformed me. I went from feeling overwhelmed and burned out to becoming energized and passionate about my work.
For teachers who may be looking at the program application and questioning how they will be balance the needs of their classroom with participating in the NSTA’s yearlong fellowship, I found that setting an organized schedule really worked for me, especially when working in a school with extended hours. When the Academy and eMentoring for Student Success (eMSS) staff sent emails on webinar events and project due-dates, I would block off time in my phone’s calendar and set automatic reminders and alarms.
Participation in the program had a direct, measurable impact on my students. From my research on designing inquiry lessons and differentiation, I found that my students became more engaged and more involved in our classes. They began to ask deeper questions and ask them more frequently, and were less intimidated by having to find answers on their own. I also became a more flexible instructor, less afraid of veering into other topics when someone asked a question, and more willing to give students more choices in their learning. As a result, our classes transformed from rigid direct instruction to more exciting student-centered instruction.
The single biggest personal impact that the Academy had on my teaching career is the confidence that I gained. I no longer feel overwhelmed or unsure about what I am doing. I have gained a very wide network of supportive mentors and friends who are there to help me any time. I have access to so many genius minds, and their passion and enthusiasm helps fuel my own. In just one year, my teacher evaluations have also shown improved performance. With support and constant practice, I have gone from scores of 2’s in my first year to scores of 4’s (4 being the highest) in my second year. The scores show me that I have grown as a science teacher, and this gives me the confidence I need to continue practicing and honing my craft so I can become that effective science champion teacher I want to be.
I have some advice for science teachers who are considering this program: Don’t hesitate—just jump in! Being selected and accepted as a NSTA New Science Teacher Fellow is an opportunity of a lifetime! It’s the present that keeps on giving long after the program is finished.