Teacher of the year
SCIENCE TEACHER Patricia Carothers is the reigning Contra Costa Teacher of the Year for her work at Danville’s Monte Vista High, where she has taught since 1972. Carothers, who teaches biology and anatomy and physiology, is also a master teacher for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory’s Science and Technology Education Program and organizes student ecotours of Costa Rica and Belize. She is busy beyond belief—but took a minute to catch up with a former student.
As a former student of yours, I was pulling for you to be named teacher of the year. Congratulations!
Thanks. It is quite an honor to represent the 8,000 teachers in Contra Costa.
How is the winning teacher selected?
There’s a series of essays that you write about teaching philosophy, good and bad experiences with students, etc. Then some former teachers come to class for observation. Ultimately, three finalists are selected, and it all comes down to a three-minute speech about what you have learned from your students.
What have you learned from them?
Whenever I’m speaking in front of my students, in my mind, I’m asking, “Am I giving them what they need?” I’ve realized that I need to make my time available to students after class and outside of class, and [to] get to know them as people. My students say that they get something from my class that’s not simply part of the textbook.
How has the way you teach changed over the years?
In terms of technology, we have so many more tools available. I have a web page for my students. It has a calendar, links to lecture notes, and key points from class each week. In terms of science, there are so many advancements in biotech and microbiology, I’ve been forced to go back and learn a lot—which makes it more fun to teach. All the new stuff is so stimulating.
What is high school like for students today, compared to when you started?
There’s more pressure on students now than ever before. The competition to get into good universities is very intense. With that in mind, the students’ performance level keeps rising. We have an honors-level anatomy and physiology class, and it really is college-level work that they are expected to do. The higher I raise the bar, the higher they jump. You hear a lot of bad press about kids today, but I think they’re getting better than ever.
I remember something from when I took your class: Avoid cookies or ice cream before bedtime. A better snack is peanut butter on a toasted English muffin.
That’s right! Because it takes a while for your body to break down the protein in the peanut butter, and your blood sugar level stays high enough that you’ll wake up ready to go the next day. I still tell my students that.