Just over thirty years ago, I was working at Marine World/Africa USA in the Land Animal and Education Departments. I spent most of my weekends sharing information with the public about conservation efforts in the afternoon and the mornings were spent cleaning enclosures. During the week I would go to public schools and speak about the incredible animals who were visiting with them that day as ambassadors. For a zoology graduate from UC Davis, this was a dream job! Alas, like many dreams reality woke me up and it was time for me to grow up and start a career. Besides, MW/AUSA was being forced to relocate and most of our jobs were eliminated. So what does a wildlife scientist do when all the animals have gone away? Well, to be honest I just found some other wild and exotic animals to work with--I became a teacher.
My first teaching assignment was thirty years ago. I was split between a high school biology program and two elementary schools working as a science specialist. The next year I moved to a neighboring district and began working in a junior high, teaching ninth grade biology and seventh grade life sciences. Shortly after that, the district reorganized into a middle school format and I got to be one of the first sixth grade science teachers. At that time there were no statewide standards and I was tasked with creating the curriculum. Amazing! As an educator, it was part of my responsibilities to actually write curriculum; not just use a publisher's pacing guide or some special task force's version of what students should know (in spite of the fact they had not been in a public classroom since their own high school graduation!). Now, as I move into my 30th year of teaching we are facing the Next Generation Science Standards (a national movement toward "improving" America's performance in math and science). And while I am still allowed to insert my own creativity and professional spin, for the most part it has been mandated what will be taught and in some case, how it shall be taught.
But really, what has thirty years as a public classroom science teacher done? I took a moment to reflect on the fact that as thirty years have gone fine, over 6500 students have entered my classroom. Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe (killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster) once said, "I touch the future... I teach." Wow! In thirty years, I have touched nearly 7000 lives and by the time I am scheduled to retire, that number could reach to close to 10,000. I am overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility of those lives. 

For some of these kids, differences were made. The former student who was bullied because of her acne, who often spent time after class to talk even if for a few moments, and is now a fashion model and YouTube celebrity (having created a make-up regime for her acne). Or the young woman who as she walked by me in a restaurant with a gleam of recognition, realized who I was and shared that she is now the CEO of her own start-up and that somehow my intervening during a crisis in middle school kept her going when she was thinking about suicide. Another is a budding politician. At least two have won Olympic gold medals. Many went on to college, have their own families now, some are teachers themselves, and unfortunately, a few have left us.
I remember being told once that students don't necessarily remember what you taught them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. As I go into my thirtieth year of teaching, I do so with the mindset that somewhere down the road, each child who enters my door will take something away. Haim Ginott: "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."
 


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    Laura Finco is a Grade 8 Science educator at Stone Valley Middle School. When she is not in her classroom, Laura is either in Sacramento advocating for teachers' rights in order to protect our students or more casually, working with her golden retrievers in the agility ring

    The SRVEA blog is written by teachers for teachers. Anyone is invited to share their thoughts. If you would like to submit a blog post, please send it to SRVEA Communications.

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