Sing Along Science

Warren G. Phillips Brain-based teaching strategies

An Open Letter to Jessica

Today, I received an e-mail from a former student, Jessica, who is in her senior year of college studying biochemistry and trying to determine her path in life. Here’s what she wrote:

Dear Mr. Phillips,
I hope all is well! I am about to enter my senior year of college and have started to think about the type of career I will pursue after I graduate. That being said, I have started to consider the prospects of becoming a high school science teacher and I was wondering how you decided to become a teacher.
You’re the best!!!!

Sincerely, Jessica  

Wow… what an honor to be asked for advice after all these many years! Even to be remembered, as her 7th grade science teacher, is humbling. Jessica was a stellar student, who won local, regional, and state science fairs…even invited to national competitions! She is what this country needs: a bright, innovative, articulate young lady who wants to make an impact on the future. And now, she’s thinking about teaching….hmmm

Well, Jessica, to be honest, I’ve wanted to be a teacher since the 7th grade. You see, in the 7th grade, I had my first male teacher: In fact, I had three: Mr. Bleakney, Mr. Gage, and Mr. Greene. I remember how much fun they had, and how much they loved teaching. Mr. Bleakney impacted me the most, probably because he taught my favorite subject, science, in such a fun way. I remember group projects that we did. One of them was a wall of stars, and each student had to research a constellation, report on it, and make the holes in the paper wall that would shine through as their own constellation. That was 50 years ago. Obviously, he taught using project-based, and brain-based learning before those teaching strategies even had a name!

Mr. Bleakney also liked me. Now that I think of it, I think he liked all of his students. I know that his students liked him, and they would work extra hard to please him. He allowed me into his world…inviting me to stay after school and participate in clubs and events, which he attended. He had a great sense of humor, and was always friendly and in a good mood. His classes were fun! I wanted to be a teacher just like Mr. Bleakney.

There’s another reason: I saw a movie called “To Sir, With Love” I don’t know why, but it hit me hard. It depicted teaching as a very difficult job, with almost impossible conditions, dealing with social and racial issues: the whole child. I recommend that you see it. Sidney Poitier (Academy Award winning actor) plays a struggling new teacher, but eventually wins over the respect of his students, while realizing that he loves this incredibly demanding profession. I wanted to be that kind of teacher.

Jessica, I think you know that I’ve won many awards for my teaching. The Best Buy Awards, Above and Beyond Awards, Time/Chevrolet teacher of the year award, Disney Middle School Teacher of the year, USA Today award, and many others. What you probably don’t know is that I applied for those so that I could get resources for my students. Each of these awards came with money to spend in my classroom. Education budgets are tight. Innovative ideas cost money, and unfortunately, education is NOT the priority that you might think in the USA. In 2015, education accounted for 2% of the national budget. (The military gets 16%). I’m not telling you this to discourage you….

Teaching is not easy. If it’s done well, it looks easy. It’s the most important job in the world. If you choose teaching, you will be affecting future generations.  You will be working hard against great odds. I know that you’re up for the challenge. And I know that you’ll find teaching to be rewarding and never boring.

As I approached retirement, I decided to apply for one last award. This one was not for grant money. It was for respect and recognition of the teaching profession. I applied for the National Teacher’s Hall of Fame. I knew that it was a long shot, but I had a vision. Months later, when I got the call saying that I was accepted, I was recognized during a ceremony by the school committee. And guess who was there? Mr. Bleakney. I had invited him and he came. I was able to thank him one more time, and hopefully help him realize the impact that he had made on his students and my students for those past 50 years. And now, Jessica, I am proud to say that many of my former students are teachers. If you decide that teaching is not for you, that’s OK because I know that you will make a difference whichever path you choose.

Thank you for making my day with your e-mail.

No, Jessica…YOU are the best!
Good Luck in your journey…please keep me posted.

Scientifically Yours,
Mr. Phillips


One comment on “An Open Letter to Jessica

  1. Dr. Joe Underwood
    July 22, 2016

    Very nice. Today YOU made a difference! I also had a male teacher early on, Mr Altpeter. Don’t know if it was he who inspired me later to become a teacher, but when I did get the opportunity to teach and become friends with you through our Disney recognition and now the National Teachers Hall of Fame, I learned from you why what we do is so important.
    Best!!! Thumz zup

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2016 by .
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