Here I remember those who nudged me along.
As I have written before, my road into teaching began in an Ameri-corps affiliated program called “Teach Baltimore”. In that program, I taught Kindergarten for two summers in West Baltimore at an elementary school called Steuart Hill. Mrs. Patterson was one of the Kindergarten teachers at Steuart Hill and she served as my mentor teacher. For me, commanding a classroom of six-year-olds was less difficult than it was for many others in the program, but Mrs Patterson never let me rest on that alone. She always challenged me to focus on student learning and on how my responses to their mistakes influenced that learning. At the end of the program, many of us were approached by the school system to become teachers (often in special ed) with out any certification or formal training in education! Mrs. Patterson encouraged us to not take those offers, and nudged us to enroll in graduate programs that would better prepare us to be teachers and teacher leaders.
In my senior year of college, I had decided I was going to go into teaching. That fall, however, I met Jo Ellen Roseman, who is the executive director of Project 2061 at AAAS. She was my friend’s Aunt, and I actually met here at his graduation party. Jo Ellen talked to me about being a physics major and my interest in teaching. She convinced me that I should apply to graduate schools in physics and study physics education. I took her advice. Jo Ellen still on occasion sends me emails to check on how I am doing and submits my name here and there for things.
For graduate school, I ended up at Arizona State University. While I was there I did some curriculum development, got to hang around the modeling folks, and began carrying out investigation in physics education research. For a variety of reasons, things were not panning out there. Through my advisor, however, I had met Steve Kanim, a professor at New Mexico State University. As things were starting to deterioriate at ASU, I cold-called Steve and asked if I could come to NMSU for a few days and get some advice on some research I was working on. Steve said yes and Steve’s family let me stay at their house and fed me. Steve spent two or three days with me, discussing my work, pointing me to literature. In particular, Steve pointed me to some of the work written by David Hammer and Joe Redish.
That summer, I paid my way to the Summer National Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers. There I gave a talk on the work I had been discussing with Steve. For some reason, my computer wasn’t working, and I had to give my ten minute talk without any slides. Rachel Scherr, who was at my talk, approached me later that day about transferring to Maryland. I started at Maryland three weeks later, and that is where I finished my PhD in Physics Education under the guidance of Rachel Scherr and David Hammer.
I am very grateful to Mrs. Patterson, Jo Ellen, Steve, and Rachel for who they are and for their willingness to take me in and nudge me in productive directions. I can only hope to repay the favor by advocating for others in the way they advocated for me.