I’m Stephanie Sullenger, and I’m excited to introduce you to one of the teachers I work with, Kirsten Arritt. Kirsten shows real strengths in Content Delivery and expertise in Chemistry, especially the way that she takes abstract Chemistry concepts and provides real life examples to make it more concrete for students. Read below to learn more about the great things going on in Kirsten’s classroom.
What organization do you work for?
Yes Prep Southeast
What grade-level and subject do you teach?
10th grade Chemistry
Where did you attend college and what was your major? List all that apply.
University of Virginia: B.Sc. Chemistry and Masters of Teaching
What attracted you to teaching?
Growing up in a rural town, my ideas of fun as a kid were ripping caterpillar nests from the plum tree outside our front door and practicing my (imagined) gold medal winning balance beam routine on a 4 x 4 in my backyard. I was a student of the world around me and my own imagination. While I was good at school, my real joy was in creating potions at the creek behind our house and collecting data on my younger sister. As school became more focused on content, I became more and more fascinated by science and math. My STEM teachers began to praise my work and ushered me into a number of science extracurricular activities. At some point, science became rote work for me, and I lost the joy that I found in my imagined experiments. I began to see science as a necessary foundation for the illustrious career in medicine I was bound for. I didn’t rediscover my childlike interest in science until a moment in organic chemistry lab at the University of Virginia when I cracked a test tube and revealed the piece of Plexiglas I had created.
This ability to form something new, an investigation into the kinetics of an obscure protein, and the opportunity to map the fruit fly’s nervous system reminded me that I really love science. I appreciate medicine, but I wanted to share my love for science with people. I had been steered into pursuing medicine because of society’s high opinion of that career choice, but as soon as I began to redefine my desires of a career, the reality of how I spent all of my free time (besides that in the lab) pointed to teaching. Upon nearing completion of my graduate degree in teaching last year, I began to look for schools that were centered on the notion that all students can achieve incredible things, committed to supporting teachers, and willing to let me share my sincere love of science with multiple groups of children. I found these things in conversations at a career fair with a YES recruiter, a phone call with Charlie, and a short trip to Houston in the spring. As I continue to identify what it looks like to be a scientist in the classroom, I am joyfully overwhelmed by the way that YES meets all I had hoped for and exceeds what I imagined I would find within the confines of a single school building. I feel incredibly privileged to work alongside staff and students alike and am glad I made the decision to pack my life into a car and drive 1,246 miles to Houston.
What is the best part of teaching? What is the most difficult part of teaching?
By far, the best part of teaching is developing relationships with students. I’ve never had the opportunity to care about so many teenagers in my life, and caring for them in a way that increases their success in science and life-long problem solving endeavors is an incredible privilege. On the flip side, the most difficult aspect of teaching stems from this. It is difficult to care so much for students. It is most challenging in regards to time management (since I want to spend all of my time concerning myself with best serving them).
Describe a successful teaching strategy that you use in the classroom. How does this impact your students’ achievement?
I love chemistry—every single mole of it (well, maybe not inorganic). I have made every effort to make sure this comes across in each lesson that I implement, whether it is in the tone of my voice or the fact that I hold students to the Right is Right standard. This impacts my students’ achievement because it increases their buy-in to the lesson. Yes, stoichiometry is a really dry subject, but I ask my students to articulate why we are doing each step and how this is beneficial. I regularly point out topics that I have always enjoyed or identify ways in which I utilized these basic concepts in my higher level chemistry classes. I have a research poster from my undergrad research hanging up in my classroom, and you might be surprised by the awe and interest on students’ faces when I can relate what we are presently doing to the seemingly complex work on that poster. I’m striving to help students see the beauty of the world around them through a lens of science, and the only way I know how to do that is let them look through mine for a little while.
When you are not working on closing the achievement gap, what do you enjoy doing?
Playing with my kitten, biking, reading, crafting
What three words would you use to describe the experience of participating in Teaching Excellence?
Practical, developing, investment