More than two million K-12 educators teach STEM subjects to American students. Of these, more than 165,000 teach predominantly science and another 250,000 teach predominantly math to middle and high school students, according to 2006 statistics.
Today marks Teacher Day, part of the larger Teacher Appreciation Week celebration, and is a time to offer up our thanks to these hard-working educators who teach science, math, technology, and engineering to the kids of our nation. We'd love to hear about some of the educators who've helped inspire your love of learning and STEM. Please share your own favorite teacher memories here in the comments or on social media by tagging us and using the hashtag #thankateacher.
As for us, none of us here at Science NetLinks and AAAS would be doing what we do here without a terrific STEM teacher in our past. As our way of saying thanks, we offer up memories of some of our favorite STEM teachers:
Shirley Malcom, Director of the Education and Human Resources division at AAAS, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and attended Lewis Elementary School. She remembers the passion one teacher brought to current scientific events and the rigor another demanded of her students:
I had lots of favorite teachers but two who really changed my life… Mr. Smoot, my science teacher in elementary school at the time that Sputnik was launched and Miss Goddard who taught me in eighth grade. Mr. Smoot was as excited as the rest of us about Sputnik and fed our curiosity about what had to happen to put that little ball into orbit.
Miss Goddard taught me mathematics and reading/writing and everything else. She had too many students in her classroom to give us all attention. So for those of us who were her “good students,” she parked us in the back of the room and told us to just keep going in our math books until we got to the place where we couldn’t figure it out by ourselves. Today I realize that by doing that she was grading papers at multiple levels, from those of us doing “self-pacing” as well as from the rest of the class…. She also forced me to become a good speller. I tell people that Miss Goddard taught me that as a student, I was better than I thought I was but not as good as I could be. I thank them both.
Suzanne Thurston, Project Director of Science NetLinks, remembers a teacher from Lincoln Elementary School, in Augusta, Maine, who encouraged her students to enjoy the messiness of science:
Early in my life, I had an incredible teacher who encouraged me to investigate the natural world, ask questions, and take risks. Later in life, I watched her teach science to a roomful of 5th graders. At first glance, the room seemed chaotic, messy, and disorganized. There was always some combination of dirt, gears, cords, hand lenses, charts, journals, and kids scattered around the room. But when I looked closer, I discovered that students were engaged, excited, teaching each other, sharing results, and learning. I loved watching her teach science. She was a guiding force encouraging students to be responsible for their own discoveries and learning. It was these teaching methods and the practice of embracing curiosity that inspired me to become an educator. Mrs. Thurston was an amazing teacher, as well as my mother, and she made a lasting impression on every student that stepped into her classroom.
Sarah Ingraffea, who handles the social media for Science NetLinks, recollects a Boynton Middle School teacher from Ithaca, New York, who made learning fun for her and her classmates, even up to test days:
Mrs. Wyckoff turned middle school science class into an adventure. We were always dissecting things, tasting new foods, and going on scavenger hunts. We felt like explorers and she encouraged us to ask lots of questions. She even made exams interesting by taping a few questions to the bottom of our desks or hiding some in cabinets and drawers. Her engaging approach to teaching fostered our natural curiosity and made learning fun.
Shelby Lake, who works on the Science in the Classroom project, also had a teacher who made science fun and who understood the importance of informal science education:
Mrs. Roddick was my fifth grade teacher and the advisor for the S.T.A.R. Kids—Students Teaching About Resources—at Knightdale Elementary in Knightdale, North Carolina. The S.T.A.R. Kids was a science club that did everything from performing science-themed puppet shows for younger kids to attending alternative energy expos on the weekend. The year I was in the club, we even won a national award that took us to D.C. to meet other kids from around the nation interested in energy and conservation. She was incredibly devoted to us, and I’m very grateful to her for sparking my interest in science.
Kirstin Fearnley, who writes for Science NetLinks, had two teachers in the Wallingford, Connecticut, school system that stood out in her memory:
One of my Dag Hammarskjold Middle School teachers, Mr. Piazza, taught us physics, astronomy, and algebra. He introduced us to Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, the entirety of which he showed us during eighth grade that year, to give us a better understanding of what we were learning in class.
A few years later, when some of my fellow Lyman Hall High School students wanted to start an environmental club, Mrs. Bennett, who taught earth science, agreed to stay after school to act as a faculty advisor and to let us use her room to stage our nascent paper recycling program. She also encouraged our interest in rainforest deforestation, which led us to hold a fundraiser and to secure several acres in the school's name.
Melissa McCartney, Project Director of Science in the Classroom, offered this tribute to Ted Bleuer who taught her algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus at Kenmore East High School, Tonawanda, N.Y.:
In New York, all students across the state take the same regents exam at the end of the school year. When I took my regents exam for algebra, I wanted so badly to give Mr. Bleuer a 100% that I sat in the gym for three hours checking and re-checking my work (spoiler, I got a 97%). There is not one specific thing that Mr. Bleuer did that inspired me so much. Instead, it was the combination of a hundred small things he did every day that made math exciting and made us want to be active members of his class! He had an energy around him, and lucky for us he channeled that energy into making hundreds of high school kids enjoy math.
Influential teachers aren't found just in the sciences. Janaya Thompson, a senior project administrator at AAAS, recalls the impact of one of her social studies teachers at North Middle School:
There have been many teachers who have had a big impact on my life. It’s really hard to narrow it down to just one or two. I think my top choice would be Mr. Myers, who was my 8th grade social studies teacher in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Growing up in West Virginia, I didn’t have many opportunities to explore the world or learn about my surroundings outside the small country area in which I grew up. I remember during one field trip to a college about five minutes from my home, the tour guide asked my classmates how many were visiting the campus for the first time. I was astonished when several hands went up. Many in my area were unable to experience activities even that close to home.
For about a period of 20 years, Mr. Myers arranged a two-week field trip to an international location. When students reached the 8th grade, they were eligible to attend. I remember hearing of the other trips to Italy, Germany, Mexico, and other fascinating locations and hoping I would be able to take a similar trip one day. In 8th grade, I was happy to be selected to spend two weeks visiting Africa and Spain. It was an adventure that changed my life. Mr. Myers did an excellent job teaching us about the many things the world had to offer. This knowledge impacted my career aspirations and encouraged me to always think bigger and hope for more than what I was able to see.