Why did you come to the Island?
I actually have been coming to the Vineyard since 2005. My husband’s family has been here since the 1600s, so he has a strong connection to the Island. I started coming to the Island after I met him, and our kids were born on the Island. We left for a couple of years, and I worked in a private school in New Jersey. When this position, to teach biology at the high school, became available, I applied for it and got the job.
Can you see yourself teaching for the rest of your career?
I think there will always be a teaching component in my life. My background is as a research scientist, and I think there will be some point in my life where I go back to the research that I was doing during my master’s and Ph.D., but I think there will always be some component of teaching in my life.
What made you want to become a teacher?
That’s actually a really interesting question, because I didn’t think that I ever wanted to become a teacher. My first four years of college I was a biology major; I always wanted to be a biologist. When I started my master’s at San Diego State University, there was a teaching requirement, so we were research assistants but we were also teachers’ assistants. So I taught for the first time while I was at San Diego State, not because I was getting a degree in education, I was actually getting a degree as a research scientist in the evolutionary biology department. So I was more or less just thrown into a class and told, “OK, here’s your class. Teach it.”
What was that like?
It was terrifying. There were a few of us who had never taught before, and we were running the labs, not teaching the lectures. San Diego State at the time had about 30,000 students, and I wasn’t in a huge lecture hall with hundreds of students, I was in a lab. So I’d be in a classroom with 30 students in a lab setup, and the class periods were three hours long. So I’d be teaching about the topic for the first part and then in the second part I’d get into how we were going to do the lab, and then the last part we’d be helping the kids through the lab procedure.
Do you think teaching helped you become a better biologist?
Oh, most definitely. The reason is, if you teach effectively, you have to understand the material at a very deep level. In order to break it down to its simplest components, teach it to a student, and then help them scaffold, build the material up in their head, you have to know the material really well.
Do you ever have challenging classes? How do you deal with them?
There have definitely been topics that I have found challenging to teach, and what I need to do when trying to teach something really confusing is try to think of how I would organize the information in my brain. How do I break it down to its simplest parts? How do I organize it so that I can learn it, and then how can I transfer that to someone else? Then, how many different ways can I explain it? What’s challenging is that so many different students learn in so many different ways; you may have a room full of all sorts of different personalities. One person may be an auditory learner, one person’s going to be a visual learner, one person’s really going to want to touch things to actually get the concepts in their head. Luckily, in biology, there are so many things you can do to solidify a concept. You can use models, do a lab; there are so many things you can do in a biology lab.
What’s your favorite part about teaching?
I think for me, I love being connected with students, having that personal connection with students, getting to know lots of different students, seeing them on a daily basis, watching them grow, those eureka moments when you’re teaching and it clicks with somebody.
What’s the most important thing you try and teach your students?
First, the love of learning. I try to teach my students strategies to make learning easy so that they can love it. I try really hard to teach my students how to be really effective, so that once you get to the test, it’s already in your head. I think that if I can teach my students how to be effective learners, then I think they can love learning instead of shying away from it or thinking of it as a chore, think of it as a ‘Wow! Think of what I learned today! This is awesome!’ When they get to the test, it’s already in their head, and it’s not a chore but a gift, something you want to do and love to do.
Beyond that, I’d say I really hope that I teach my students to advocate for life on Earth. To go out there and be stewards of the Earth, to protect the living things on Earth.
Do you feel like Martha’s Vineyard is especially environmentally conscious, or do you think there are things we could work on?
I certainly think in some ways, yes we are very environmentally friendly, but there are some things that shock me sometimes. I certainly do think that we tend to be greener here, but I still think that everybody could be making better choices. I sometimes think even about the coffee pods, and I see them in the faculty room and wonder why more people aren’t choosing to use reusable ones. It’s hard; sometimes I think convenience and practicality override good environmental decisions.
So what do you do when you’re not in school?
When I’m not in school I run a publishing company with my husband called Moonrise Media. I run the business. And I spend time with my two children, which takes up all of my spare time.
How is it balancing all of that?
It’s tough — I think any working mother would agree that it’s hard. You’re pulled very thin and some days you just can’t do it all and something’s got to give. You just have to do your best, and everything that I do on a daily basis I love doing. So it all gets done, one way or another.
So what’s your favorite place on Martha’s Vineyard?
I love everywhere on Martha’s Vineyard so it’s a tough question, but there are two places that are my most favorite. I love Quansoo Beach, that’s my favorite beach on the Island, and I love it this time of year because we can get in and the gate is open.
My favorite place to eat is the Galley: cheeseburgers and clam chowder. Those are my top two. I feel very lucky to be back on Martha’s Vineyard, very lucky to be teaching at the high school, teaching what I love in the place that I love. It can’t get much better than that.