I started teaching when I was 20. Hindsight is 20/20, though I felt well prepared on pedagogy and psychology of the child, the contrast between teacher preparation courses and actually being a teacher was staggering. I stumbled through lesson plans and cursed at my teacher-preparation courses for not giving me the guidance I was craving. I wish this was more of a unique story, but unfortunately many of us teachers feel thrown to the wolves when we start teaching.
Becoming a teacher was intimidating and everyday felt like a new challenge. But 12 years later I continue to teach, not because the challenges have stopped, but because I have found my chemistry community and support system through joining Beyond Benign. The Lead Teacher program broadens my network of chemistry teachers and cultivates a community of learning of how to best adopt green chemistry into our classrooms. Within this community, I have found a mentor in Annette Sebuyira.
Annette has 26 years of experience and is my constant source of guidance, insight, resources, and methodologies. Anyone who has met Annette knows she’s a fantastic teacher, but luckily the state of New York has made it undeniable by making her a NY Master Teacher. She mentors me in developing as a chemistry teacher and gives advice like, “relate chemistry to cooking for new science teachers” and “do Halloween labs of making ooblek and a non-burning scarecrow.”
When I first started teaching, I had felt behind and as if I should have known more than I did. Therefore, when I started teaching green chemistry, those same feelings crept back. However, Annette taught me that we are all learning how to best teach chemistry in a sustainable and safe way. Green chemistry education is a new frontier, and it is best explored as a team. She helps me navigate colleagues’ resistant to using benign materials and helps me keep the ‘wow’ factor in labs without the high risk. She shares, “You could do something as simple as a household ammonia fountain that’s as beautiful as the more dramatic demos. Or you could do an instant precipitation with sodium carbonate and calcium chloride instead of barium sulfate and lead nitrate.” With Annette as my role model, I have grown confident in my teaching of green chemistry.
With green chemistry education being a relatively new field, it means that we all have had to pivot to change our style and adopt green chemistry into our curriculum. We’re constantly learning and teaching each other because we’re passionate about our students becoming responsible global citizens. Like my relationship with Annette, the Lead Teacher team looks towards each other for advice and counsel. With an average of 17 years of classroom experience, Lead Teachers are a treasure trove of chemistry insight coupled with an excitement to learn how to ‘green’ their classrooms. We carry the ideology of ‘for teachers, by teachers’ from curriculum curating to classroom advice. This community grows stronger with teachers outside of the Lead Teacher program, like those from the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT), by bringing in new ideas on how to teach green chemistry. Together, we are all learning how to best adopt green chemistry into our classrooms.
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An Interview of Annette Sebuyira Written by Scott Carlson, Edited by Janie Butler