A dear friend of mine passed away over the weekend. She was a middle school science teacher, and she was the best I've ever known. She was the best because she enjoyed teaching and because she truly cared about her students. I know that may sound trite, but there is no better way to convey the truth of her professionalism as a teacher.
She also taught science the way it should be taught. She serves as a perfect example of how inquiry and PBL can be done effectively. I know that inquiry and PBL are difficult, but Cherri was able to do it. She was able to do it because it was fun for her. She constantly learned new things and sought out new projects. And she did the projects alongside her students. Cherri's students even trained other teachers on her lessons in rocketry for NASA.
When I first met Cherri she was undergoing chemotherapy. She was also struggling, I think, with her self-confidence as a teacher, but I could see then that she was special. She asked me if I thought she should apply to a program at NASA and if I thought she was qualified. I told her she was exactly the type of teacher they needed. She applied and was accepted, and she proceeded to take that opportunity and turn it into an amazing run for herself and her students. I watched her confidence and her hair grow back over the next few years, and I was constantly amazed at her resilience and dedication.
Cherri was dedicated to doing things right even when it wasn't easy. Like any science teacher who uses inquiry in their classrooms, she had parents and administrators who didn't always understand the value of what she was doing. I know that it hurt her when she was rebuked for "not using the text book" or "taking too many field trips" but she knew she was doing things right and she perservered.
Her students certainly know she did it right. The number of former and current students attending her funeral service was testament to that. The number of students signing her guestbook, and the experiences they shared are a testament as well. But the greatest testament to her success is the number of students from her classes succeeding in high school and college. I know a lot of teachers through HUNSTEM, and I know her students are well thought of. This is the truest assessment of teaching. Her students are not only successful in their studies after her teaching, but they remain interested in science whether they plan to pursue it as a career or not.
Cherri couldn't beat cancer the second time, but she has forevor won the minds of her students and the hearts of all who knew her.
I'm writing this tribute to Cherri in HUNBlog to show that science can be taught through the principles of constructivism. It isn't easy, but when done right, it's the best way to teach science. For any teachers who are using inquiry and PBL, keep at it. Keep learning and keep searching for new experiences for yourselves and your students. Stay strong in your knowledge that you are doing it right.
Look to Cherri Brinley for inspiration. I know I do.