Photographs by Jennifer May
There are teachers, and then there are Master Teachers. That’s the title of a new state program that aims to help top teachers hone and share their educational expertise.
The first “class” of Master Teachers, selected in 2013, comprises more than 100 math and science educators from four regions of the state. Each region’s selected teachers are paired with a SUNY campus, where they periodically meet for workshops and other educational programs.
“It’s sort of like a think tank, combined with an honors course for teachers,” says Colleen Bucci, a science teacher in the Hyde Park Central School District, who is among the inaugural group. “Since this is the first year, we’re still developing the program,” says Bucci, who lives in Saugerties. “It’s a team of teachers who are looking at what types of techniques and approaches would be most effective in the classrooms.”
Launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the program’s 2013 class includes 77 high school, 21 middle school, and six dual-responsibility teachers. Participants will serve as mentors for other educators, help new teachers develop their skills, participate in workshops, and take part in various events during the four-year program.
SUNY New Paltz serves as the partner campus for the 19 teachers from the mid-Hudson area; SUNY Cortland and the University at Albany partner with teachers in central New York and the Capital Region, respectively.
“It’s learning for us, and learning from each other,” says Bucci, who teaches biology, ecology, and forensic science at FDR High School. The program concentrates on STEM courses — science, technology, engineering, and math, she adds. “We want to create more authentic science courses, with more problem-solving opportunities for the students. The Master Teacher program gives us the space to discover ways to do it.”
Participants receive a $15,000 stipend for each of the four years, during which they will conduct research and attend periodic meetings, workshops, and mini-courses. “It’s on top of our regular school loads, so it’s going to be a lot of work. But it’s work that matters; we’ll develop things that I can bring directly into my classroom,” she says.
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Students need to be more engaged with learning, Bucci feels. “Kids will buy in, if it’s a topic that matters; it’s not just the science perspective, but the historic perspective, too. So that when they ask, ‘Why do I have to learn this?’ they’ll see that it interconnects with the world.”
For instance, says Bucci, “I’m very interested in the issue of ocean acidification. It’s sort of global warming’s evil twin. The oceans are absorbing more of the carbon we’re producing, and this is making the water more acidic. As a result, we’re seeing interference with larval stages, and other changes.
“It’s interesting from a biological perspective. Also, when you look at it historically, you can study the math, the statistics. If we share this kind of information with students in a meaningful way, it can create a more authentic learning experience for them.”
Bucci is active with the national wolf conservation movement, and has tracked wolves in Yellowstone Park. For three years, she’s coordinated programs with the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem to teach middle and high school kids about gray wolves and other endangered species. “They brought an Arctic gray wolf and talked about how, if a top predator like the wolf is gone, it upsets the entire ecology,” she says. “It makes it real for the kids.”
Addressing topics like these in the classroom is part of the reason why Bucci is so eager to take part in the Master Teacher program. “To me, it’s about raising a generation of kids who are caring, who know what the issues are. I tell students, ‘You may or may not go into the field of science. But you’re going to live in this country and make choices. What you understand matters.’ ”
She adds: “We want to engage students, so they’ll start asking, ‘Can we go more into this topic?’ It’s about getting an emotional connection in the classroom. And if you’re excited about a topic as a teacher, most of the time, it’ll rub off on the students.”
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