The Importance of Inspiring Teachers in Science Education

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We asked biology instructors what inspired them to teach. James Morris, author of How Life Works, kindly shared with us what motivated him to become a scientist, teacher, and writer. Here's what he had to say! 

I wrote How Life Works because I deeply care about science education. But if you ask me what inspired me and got me interested in science in the first place, it was my high school biology teacher, Dr. Dorothy Andrews.

Dr. Andrews, or Dr. Dot as we called her, had a unique way of teaching that left a lasting impression on me. One of the things I loved about her was how observant she was of the world around her. She would notice even the tiniest details, like a plant growing through the pavement in a parking lot. We would often go on nature walks, but sometimes we never made it down the trail because she would get so caught up in her fascination with a particular plant.

This story perfectly describes her - someone who noticed the world and delighted in it. It made a big impression on me and inspired me to pay close attention to the world around me. Dr. Dot taught me the importance of observation and close looking. She taught me that even something as seemingly simple as a fern can have many variations and unique characteristics. By noticing these differences, we could better identify and understand them.

As Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by looking." Dr. Dot taught me to observe, which is an essential aspect of being a scientist. She had us read a book called "The Art of Scientific Investigation" by W.I.B. Beveridge. This book focused on different aspects of the scientific process, such as observation, experimentation, chance, and imagination. It laid a foundation for my understanding of science and continues to influence the way I teach and write today.

When I went to college, I was disappointed to find that there wasn't as much emphasis on observation and experimentation in my biology classes. It was more focused on memorization, which turned me off from pursuing biology as a major. Instead, I became a history major. However, my passion for science was reignited later when I had another inspiring teacher, my graduate advisor, Dr. Ting Wu.

Dr. Wu, a geneticist, introduced me to the world of chromosome structure, gene expression, and epigenetics. She encouraged me to ask interesting questions and explore the unknown. One valuable lesson she taught me was to treasure exceptions. When something didn't fit the normal pattern, it was an opportunity to learn something new. This reminded me of Barbara McClintock's book, "A Feeling for the Organism," where she described how getting to know corn so well allowed her to learn from its exceptions, leading to groundbreaking discoveries in genetics.

Both Dr. Dot and Dr. Ting inspired me to become a scientist. I try to incorporate their teachings into both my teaching and writing. I prioritize caring for and getting to know my students. I ask open-ended questions that invite discussions rather than simply providing answers. My goal is to instill a sense of wonder in my students because when they are interested and curious, everything else falls into place. They will naturally learn the terms and processes if they have that sense of wonder.

In recent years, we have learned a great deal about how students learn best. We understand the importance of learning objectives, structured learning, and active learning. However, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the crucial role of teachers. Just as Dr. Dot and Dr. Ting had a tremendous influence on me, teachers can have a profound impact on their students' lives.

So, if you reflect on your own interests and passions, chances are there was a teacher who played a similar role. They ignited that spark within you. As we continue to improve science education, let's remember the significance of teachers. They are the ones who can inspire and guide students on their journey of discovery. 

Watch this short video to view his response!