Sherri Rukes teaches at Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Illinois. For several years she taught a combination of regular chemistry, honors chemistry, and physics, and for the past decade she has been the school’s AP chemistry teacher.
What are three things that your students would say they learned from you?
How to think for themselves, think outside of the box, and never give up.
Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
During my childhood, I remember playing teacher with my stuffed animals and dolls. I would line them up and use a chalkboard on wheels. In middle school, I figured out science would be the topic. It was not until high school that I realized it would be chemistry. My chemistry teacher did not only make me excel, but he made me want to go to class, and learn about things other than what was covered in class. He got to know his students and cared about their insecurities. He did not mind telling students that he did not know an answer, which made learning interesting. I was not afraid to be wrong and actively questioned things. These memories made me realize that I wanted to become like him when I grew up.
What fuels your passion for science and teaching?
The students, by far, are the most rewarding part of the job—both my interaction with them, and seeing them work together to learn a tough abstract subject such as chemistry. I am so proud of all my students when I see them have that “aha moment.” As a teacher, you hope that you inspire at least one student and it brings me to tears to think of the students that I have touched and did not know it. I am like a “proud parent.” They are all my kids and I hope for the best for them. Former students told me that the students call my class “a family.” I care so much for them and I look forward to teaching them.
My words of wisdom are: Never give up, look outside the box, and always do what you enjoy and love! That is what makes every day at work interesting to me. Each one is a new experience.
Do you have a science demo that students find particularly compelling? What makes it so interesting for them?
There are too many individual demos to talk about, but Halloween would be the day I would do them. Each year I put on a show for my students. I do 40 or more demos that are related to Halloween, and they have to write down the concept of chemistry that I am portraying. It is a lot of work, but the faces of my students sum it all up.
Question 5: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
I love sports (not really playing, but watching). I’m a huge Chicago Cubs, Bears and Blackhawks fan. However, most of my time I do Chemistry. I love to spend my time helping others with the subject, doing outreach, and speaking at conferences. I try to inspire others to enjoy chemistry and science—or at least have an appreciation for it. It makes me energized, and I learn so much from the participants as much as enjoying teaching others.
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