Hi everyone, I’ve spent much of my time over the past 10 years since moving from high school to college chemistry teaching thinking about whether I made the right choice in doing so. On one side of the internal conversation is the perspective that in the high school environment, since so much of my daily work was spent in direct contact with my students, I felt that I could have a larger role in influencing their intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual development. That opportunity, often perceived as an obligation or responsibility to give back to the youth of the generation to come, often drove me to great lengths to bring my very best to school each day. I wanted to be a role model, I wanted to teach well and inspire them, and I wanted to show them the beauty I saw in how nature was designed and worked together to display all its many complexities and processes. I didn’t touch every life the way I intended to, but seemed to enough of the time that I hardly ever felt like I was wasting my talents or efforts on fruitless labor.
On the other side of that self-talk was the reality that I felt an increasing level of demands and constraints placed on me from all kinds of entities from outside me…it was suffocating at times…it was department chairs and school counselors and psychologists, the principal and school board and parents, state legislatures and departments of education, accreditation agencies and even other teachers. Every year it seemed like less of my time was spent thinking about the time with my students and more about what i needed to do to ignore or placate the interests of all the other ‘voices in my head’.
What I’ve experienced at the university level has been in many ways a shift in the opposite direction, now generally feeling that I’m treated as a professional, left to myself and my colleagues to decide what and how chemistry should be taught, using our experience, training, and research literature to inform most of what we decide to do. My perceived sphere of influence has increased and I rarely feel ‘burned out’ and that I need to constantly talk to other colleagues for impromptu therapy sessions. My work is sustainable, relevant, and rewarding almost all of the time. At the expense of this healthier state of mind comes the reality that 2 hours a week with 50-100 students in a large lecture hall simply cannot substitute for the hours spent with those teenagers experiencing the pain of divorce; the loss of loved ones; the fear and doubt about their future and whether they were good enough to do x or y; the joy of realizing that they were much more capable and beautiful than they thought.
So, is there a point to all of this rambling? I hope so. For me, my recent striving is to see those two worlds collide…where my high school teacher colleagues experience the satisfaction of feeling like and acting like a professional, and for my university work to have the impact on lives that was so rewarding during my many years in the classroom. As an associate editor with Deanna Cullen for the Journal of Chemical Education, we’re often given opportunities to interact with our colleagues in ways we hadn’t before, such as realizing this vision of ChemEdX and a AP Chemistry Special Issue devoted specifically to high school chemistry teaching.
Another way is to see high school teachers play a larger part in determining what goes into the professional literature about the best practices and ideas about how to teach chemistry at the precollege level. So much of what is published about how we should teach is written and reviewed by university professors rather than those that live and breathe it every day. I think that should change, and I hope you will help us see that high school teachers contribute to these conversations most consistently and in greater numbers than we’ve seen previously. Two simple activities that you can join us in to make this a reality is by reviewing precollege submissions to the journal as referees, where you share your professional opinion and perspective on how novel, effective, and useful are the ideas shared in articles, and what could be done to make sure they’re of the highest quality and represent the best of what we know and should be doing in our classrooms. The other activity is to author your own manuscripts, which can be done alone or in partnership with other colleagues, faculty, or even Deanna and myself. Many of you that participate at ChemEdX have REALLY GOOD IDEAS and we’d love to see them shared out more broadly with the teaching community around the world. Perhaps you can help shape how we think about and practice our craft in the next 5, 10, 20 years? If you are interested, go to our journal submission site and set up a quick account, then let me or Deanna know what areas of chemistry or chemistry teaching you feel comfortable with reviewing and we’ll start including you as we can. You might also check out the Info for Authors and Reviewers page.