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Teacher Voices From the Field: Celebrating 20 Years of NOYCE

Since its authorization by Congress in 2002, the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program has funded higher education institutions to provide scholarships, stipends, and support to recruit and prepare STEM students and professionals to work in high-need schools. Celebrating their 20th anniversary, AAAS looks back on our years of partnership with NSF, which has included organizing an annual Summit, developing two websites, and recruiting and disseminating the latest STEM and teacher education research through blogs, webinars, and workshops. To further recognize 20 years of collaboration, we are pleased to introduce you to six educators who through Noyce projects have received their teaching degrees and are now teaching in high-need schools.

headshot of Camela Brown
Camela Brown.

Camela Brown, Mesa Alta Jr. High School, Noyce Program: Fort Lewis College

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I am an eighth-grade middle school science teacher.  My community is located near the Navajo reservation; the diversity in our school is about one-third Native American, one-third Latinx, and one-third Caucasian.

What is the most impactful challenge that the student population you work with faces, and how is your experience and preparation helping you address that challenge? 
Finding solutions for students who do not have the basic amenities and resources like running water, electricity, and access to a phone or even the internet. During the height of the pandemic, learning went to an online platform which was not nearly as successful for students in rural communities because of the distance to get internet service or sharing resources with other siblings. My experience has led me to become patient and meet every student where they are when they return to school. These challenges still exist all over the reservation, but with dormitories and schools opening back up, things are getting better.

A teacher education program cannot prepare you for every challenge that you will face in a high-need classroom. Knowing what you know now if you could design one class, what would be the focus?
It would help new and inexperienced teachers understand and recognize cultural competence and awareness. More people of colorful backgrounds are fusing their cultures together, and depending on where a teacher decides to teach, it would be necessary to identify and understand the groups in their communities. The class would diversify the teaching experiences in a variety of classroom settings and not be limited to the teacher’s own content but include overall immersion into the students’ classrooms and community.

Jose Garcia-Villar, Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School, Noyce Project: American Museum of Natural History, Earth Science Residency Program

headshot of Jose Garcia-Villar
Jose Garcia-Villar.

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I teach Earth Science at a high-need school in the South Bronx serving roughly 200 students living in the Mott Haven section. Our student population is 70% Latino and 30% African American and West African.

What is the most impactful challenge that the student population you work with faces, and how is your experience and preparation helping you address that challenge?
There is a lack of motivation and low academic skills. My students and I both have a similar background, I went through a lot in terms of academics, learning a new language, and struggling to pass classes since I did not speak or write fluently. I see myself in them, so I think and act how I wanted teachers to support me when I was in high school and learning English. Having the unique advantage to receive my master’s degree through the American Museum of Natural History, I have gone on to create equally worthwhile opportunities to engage my students such as science field trips and inviting museum scientists to speak with my students.

What would you tell people thinking about becoming a science or math teacher in a high-need school?
You are about to enter one of the most rewarding and impactful professions. Serving students in a high-need school can be a powerful and life-changing experience. You can witness how students struggle in academics but can watch them go from being unmotivated and disengaged to being bright students, reaching graduation, and even pursuing higher education. Teachers can be proud because they know that they have played a big part in helping students progress and achieve success.

headshot of Dario Gudino
Dario Gudino.

Dario Gudino, Bryan High School, Noyce Project: University of Nebraska at Omaha

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I teach high school mathematics and computer science in the Omaha Public Schools, the largest school district in Nebraska with over 53,000 students. We are lucky to have an incredibly diverse community with over 100 different languages spoken by our student population.

What was the most useful piece of advice that you received when you started teaching in your own classroom?
Empathize with your students. It’s the best investment you can make as a teacher. Get to know your students and allow them to get to know you. To be a great teacher, you must love your students. Curriculum, lesson planning, and tests are all necessary, but the difference is made in that personal connection.

What would you tell people thinking about becoming a science or math teacher in a high-need school?
Go in with a purpose. Whether you want to improve the quality of education, give back to your community, or change the lives of students, go in determined to make a difference, and put your heart into it. A teacher’s responsibility to shape the next generation is huge. We need a strong community of driven individuals to make a big difference.

Ashley Mezzano, Mandarin High School, Noyce Program:  University of North Florida, Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program

headshot of Ashley Mezzano
Ashley Mezzano.

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I teach biology including AP, Honors, and a college-level course called AICE.  My high school is one of the largest in Duval County, FL with 2,400 students.  My students, my fellow teachers, and the school community are “compassionate.”

To what extent are you an innovator in your school and school community?
Before coming to Mandarin H.S., I taught middle school where I was constantly looking for new ways to engage and help my students. I found that many acted out because they were hungry or frustrated, and that providing food, calming items, and activities that engaged them helped tremendously with their growth. I put together a lot of projects with my students in mind, including a student interest library, art boxes, and a “student cafeteria” for those who needed food at the end of the day.

What would you tell people thinking about becoming a science or math teacher in a high-need school? 
Even on the days when much science can’t get done, be compassionate and patient with your students. You will be surprised at how much your students will learn so long as you keep giving them opportunities and support them.

headshot of Dacia Morris
Dacia Morris.

Dacia Morris, Spring Woods High School, Noyce Program: teachHouston at the University of Houston

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I teach mathematics at a large high school with over 2,000 students. The students at my school are about 92% minority and 87% economically disadvantaged.  They are some of the kindest, hardest-working students I have ever met.

What was the most useful piece of advice that you received when you started teaching in your own classroom? 
Do not allow fear to hold you back. When I started teaching, I was afraid to step outside the box and do something different. The fears of letting down my students, going against the grain, preparing for state exams, and so many other worries held me back. Then I remembered one of my professors say, “You can do whatever you want…if you are trying to do what is best for your students.” So, my best advice is to be bold, be different, take chances, and try new things! 

A teacher education program cannot prepare you for every challenge that you will face in a high-need classroom. Knowing what you know now if you could design one class, what would be the focus?
My class would help educators learn how to build connections with students—helping them understand that being authentically you is the best version of you that you can be. Students will thrive in an environment where you are comfortable, and then they feel comfortable being themselves as well. At teachHouston, we say that students don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Building those authentic connections is the most important thing.

headshot of Jedd Tougas
Jedd Tougas.

Jedd Tougas, Ronan High School, Noyce Program: Salish Kootenai College

Tell us what you teach and a little bit about your school/community. 
I teach chemistry, Earth science, AP environmental science, Montana natural history, and physics (depending on the year). Our community is rural and agricultural yet consists of a diverse collection of cultures. I live on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana, home of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. We have great pride in our school's emphasis on culture and fostering connections to our community.

What was the most useful piece of advice that you received when you started teaching in your own classroom? 
The most useful advice was not to compare myself to others. Observing others and self-reflection are critical to furthering pedagogy but be kind to yourself and understand that different tools will work for students and teachers.

To what extent are you an innovator in your school and school community? 
My latest innovation was to adopt project-based learning in my classroom, which allowed me to better understand the Next Generation Science Standards and my students' learning needs.  I’m also active in advocating for equity in the classroom, restorative justice, land or place-based education, technology integration, and authentic relationships