Chem Ed 2019 - Not What I Expected

Text Chem Ed July 21 - 25

"What are we doing to help kids achieve?"

After just returning from Chem Ed 2019 in Naperville, I was planning on writing a blog about the best ideas and take aways. This conference is like drinking water through a fire hose. Every presenter and every participant were dedicated teachers finding amazing and creative ways to help students learn chemistry. I picked my words carefully....I mean everyone. It quickly got to the point where my brain was going to explode. It is difficult to sort the fragments of the explosion. One workshop explained how students can easily, quickly and effectively collect many different types of gases for experiments. Other workshops allowed teachers to play the role of both student and teacher in a Modeling classroom. Teachers who had never experienced modeling could begin to get a sense of what it is about. Groups of teachers presented a session on standards based grading in the science classroom. Others discussed the current state of affairs in the Pre-AP and AP program. All of these are worthy of a blog. It was not the amazing ideas and strategies that captured the most attention for some. It was the people. People like Mike.

"I am not a very good teacher."

This was Mike's first Chem Ed conference. Teaching is not Mike's first career. He has been teaching for eight years. He used to be in business. He is struggling as a teacher. In business, he could tell people what he thought. He found that honest and upfront conversions do not always go over well with school administrators though. He teaches at a Title I school. 60% of the students are on free and reduced lunches. His classes usually have about 36 students in a class but he only has room for18 students. The room has expensive equipment...that is rarely used. Years ago, someone received a grant, bought equipment and then left. Some is still in boxes. He has an overwhelming supply of galss pipettes but there are no pipette bulbs. It is tough for Mike to work with other teachers. Most of the other teachers do not stay around long. It is rare to see someone there for more than a year. It does not help that the state came in, fired everyone and started over. According to Mike, conditions have not improved much.

Mike is interested in learning modeling. He saw another teacher try the process. Kids responded that for the first time they felt like a teacher was trying to work with them. The English as a second language (ESL) students communicate better when they can draw out ideas. Mike saw discipline problems go down in that teacher's room. Imagine that. Money, or lack of, is a problem in Mike's school. So far, he thinks he has spent about $3000 of his own money on his classroom. Despite the circumstances, Mike's attitude is positive. This attitude might come from the chemistry teacher Mike had in high school....an 86 year old gentleman that Mike still calls from time to time.

You can imagine my surprise when Mike confided that he felt he was not a good teacher. I highly doubt that. Mike shows up. He gets in the ring. Even when he gets knocked down, he gets up and tries again. He is willing to fix practices that might not work. He likes helping kids....even when it is hard. In the little time I spent with Mike, I was inspired. So here is my challenge to anyone reading this. Please consider reaching out to a guy like Mike. There are many ways. Do you have a cool idea? Did you have a good day in the classroom? Was there an "Aha" moment where you thought that you had a great activity that went well with students? Please consider sharing by posting something on ChemEdX.org. Try to get involved somehow. I know....it is a time issue. School is starting and the chaos will begin. Papers, labs, meetings, calls, emails...the list is endless. I get it. But helping someone else does not have to take much time. Here is the interesting aspect....you will receive far more than you can ever give. People like Mike really inspire me...especially on those tough days when I feel like the students are really getting to me. It is guys like Mike that help to make students and teachers better. Please consider finding a way to give back.... we could all use more people like Mike in our lives.