Amid the shortage of trained science teachers in elementary and secondary schools across the state and the nation, there are some who are developing their skills to make up for the shortcoming.
Mill Creek Middle School educator Anastacia Nicole is one of those teachers.
“I want to be a good-quality science teacher,” the eighth-grade educator said. “I want to make sure my students learn all the content so they understand how and why the world works the way that it does.”
In her second year of teaching, Nicole, 38, is an associate fellow in the inaugural year of the New Science Teacher Academy.
Based on a partnership between the National Science Teachers Association and the Amgen Foundation, the New Science Teacher Academy was started in 2007. The academy is designed to encourage and support new middle and secondary school science educators in their first few years of teaching, a period of time Nicole and others know is unstable for new teachers of any subject.
“Fifty percent of beginning teachers leave their jobs within the first five years, and I don’t want to be one of those teachers,” she said.
That’s a main reason she applied for the program last summer, she said. She was accepted as an associate fellow this year, and she plans on applying as a fellow next year, a position that requires three to five years experience.
A fellowship with the academy is a very valuable resource, Nicole said, one that she thinks will significantly cut down the time it will take her to become a truly effective science teacher.
“They’ve found that it takes five to seven years to really become a competent, effective science teacher,” she said. “So the goal of the New Science Teacher Academy is to cut that down to three to five years.”
The academy includes a variety of resources, including regular interactive Web seminars, unlimited use of curriculum resources, mentors, publications and other learning opportunities for new teachers. The academy recently paid for Nicole to attend the National Science Education Conference in Boston, Mass. She was one of only three teachers in the state to be selected to attend.
Nicole participated March 27-30 in classes taught by renowned scientists and educators at the conference, learning about the latest in science content, teaching strategies and research. She also got to network with other science educators.
“One thing that I loved about the conference was being around all these science teachers who are passionate,” Nicole said. “I came back from the conference tired but energized and jazzed about science. It affirmed for me that science is what I love to teach and that middle school is where I absolutely want to be.”
She said she learned many new ideas at the conference, cramming in every class she could take while she was there. With the One-to-One laptop program starting at Mill Creek this year, she said she found classes on using technology to teach difficult-to-understand topics most beneficial.
“After the conference, I was so excited to try out some new ideas,” Nicole said.
With classes of around 35 students due to fewer teachers and a lack of funding for lab supplies, being a science teacher is difficult, she said, but she thinks it’s important. She even switched careers for it. The longtime Washington resident previously worked in biotech for a drug-testing company, but when she began training other employees, she found she had a knack for teaching.
Now, she’s passionate about teaching young students the way the world works. And she says science teaches other valuable life skills.
“It teaches them problem-solving skills,” Nicole said. “When they design and develop their own lab experiments, it’s making them figure out how they’re going to go about discovering something. It’s so valuable to learn how to do that.”
To learn more about the New Science Teacher Academy, visit the National Science Teachers Association Web site at www.nsta.org/academy.
Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.