Teacher of the Month: James Clark

James Clark
Teacher, Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, California

Background: Clark has taught Biology, AP Biology, and Honors Anatomy and Physiology for 32 years. He is also San Lorenzo Unified School District's science teacher on special assignment for implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Clark believes San Lorenzo is an incredibly collaborative and supportive district that serves a diverse group of students.

Question 1: Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

Answer: I became a teacher because of the influence teachers and coaches had on me. In particular, a teacher at Carlmont High School (in Belmont, California) named Terry Stogner had a profound influence on my decision to go into teaching. He pushed me to get better and was willing to listen when I was struggling. I guess you could say from high school on I knew I wanted to teach.

Question 2: What are you most proud of in your work? What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

Answer: I am most proud of the fact that I’ve been at my current district for 32 years, and that the majority of students I’ve taught are first-generation college students. I am passionate about providing opportunities for all students to succeed, and to see so many of my former students come back and share their college and now professional experiences with me is immensely rewarding.

Question 3: How do you monitor the progress of your students? How do you ensure underperformers excel?

Answer: There is no magic in building meaningful long-lasting relationships with students and parents. It does require a lot of effort. You have to care, advocate, communicate, trust, invest in their interests, be open and transparent, emotional and honest. Parents always want their children to have better lives and more opportunities than they had.

Question 4: What three things would your students say they learned from you?

Answer: 1. Always shine; 2. keep trying; and 3. failure is part of the process. Kids generally remember how you made them feel more than the specific content. When kids come back and visit, they never say, “Hey, your explanation of enzyme action changed my life!” But they do say they’ve taken lessons on perseverance and character into their college and professional lives.

Question 5: If you could pick one scientist (living or dead) to come speak to your class, who would it be and why?

Answer: E.O. Wilson. In my AP Biology class, our required summer read is Letters to a Young Scientist. I chose this book because Wilson champions the causes of biodiversity and conservation, as well as making a compelling case to not limit science to a lab, but to move it out in the natural world. Students respond to his life story and his recognition that science is for all citizens. His decision to follow his passion is inspirational for all kids today.