I love being a science teacher. It was my parents love of family camping trips that immersed me in exploring the natural world. On naturalist walks at national parks, I soaked in the details about parasitic plants found in eastern deciduous forests and constellations gazed at on mountain tops and sea cucumbers discovered in tidal pools.
I love teaching middle school girls. They are funny and curious and intellectually vibrant. Yesterday I was teaching 7th graders about the cell cycle and mitosis. The topic for the day was how this all works and how almost all the time, it goes right. When it doesn’t go right, the cells pass the natural check points and start to divide uncontrollably. That’s what cancer is. They started asking all the “what happens if/when” questions. Someone asked if you lose your sense of smell, can you get it back. If your optic nerves are damaged, can they be repaired? They know that Mark has cancer, because a letter went home when I had to be out for our trip to Texas. I hadn’t talked to them about it though. Yesterday, it fit and so I did. I carefully related their questions about smell and vision to sinus cancer and treatment. Their questions flowed. Why does my aunt with bone cancer have to have oxygen? Do men get breast cancer? My mom had breast cancer at Stage 1. What do the stages mean? Does cancer hurt? Can cancer be cured, or is it always just being managed? What are mets? How does cancer kill you? And this one: if your husband is sick, why are you here? I answered what I could, and we wondered together about the questions for which I didn’t know the answers.
To me, this is the essence of being a good teacher: taking the teachable moments when they come, giving room for questions to be asked, creating a safe community to explore together our world and our lives. It was awesome.