A tremendous challenge for any chemistry instructor is overcoming students' fears of an abstract science. Learning requires trust and a safe environment where students can practice, make mistakes, explore ideas and hone their skills. The safety of my classroom fosters confidence, and having confidence is integral to student success. This is something I learned on an unusual path to my Texas classroom.
At the age of eight, my family emigrated from Egypt to the United States so my mother could conduct medical research in Dallas. With double doctorates each, my parents worked hard and took education very seriously. My mother must have recognized my gift for teaching from a young age because she called me "Mademoiselle Deroose" (Miss Lessons). I was in the fourth grade when we moved, and I only spoke Arabic and French. By the time fifth grade rolled around, I was the best student in the class.
However, the spark that ignited my passion for teaching happened at Kilgore College in freshman general chemistry class. My instructor made the subject relatable and fun. In graduate school, I loved being a teaching assistant, unlike my fellow graduate students who preferred to focus on research. Upon my graduation, while the pay for chemists was enticing, the necessary lab work didn't excite me the way teaching did. Teaching chemistry put me in my element.
Today, I captivate unsuspecting students with the awe and magic of science, providing them a glimpse into how their gained knowledge and critical thinking skills can impact society. I use everyday examples and analogies to make each topic memorable and relevant. A bad hair day becomes a hydrogen-bonding phenomenon and cooking spaghetti becomes an exercise in intermolecular forces and time management. My classes are full of group learning and guided inquiry experiences. The real magic happens when my students' perceptions about chemistry slowly transform. As their strengths reveal themselves, I encourage them to dream big, and I guide them through the next steps to succeed in their chosen fields, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.
Having served on several national American Chemical Society exam committees, I drafted my institution's freshman chemistry student learning outcomes, linking to specific items on ACS exams for assessment, and collected data that was used to guide our department's Continuous Improvement Plan. Fellow professors have adopted several of my in-class and recitation activities, syllabi and various techniques. To address the spiraling cost of textbooks, I led a general chemistry lab curriculum modification by designing and writing in-house lab experiments and recruiting department colleagues to join me. Consequently, our students do not have to pay for chemistry lab manuals; they access our authored experiments online.
I hold my students, and myself, to high standards both inside and outside of the classroom. Since completing my doctorate in 2006 while working full time, my schedule each semester includes time for research collaboration and community service. For the classroom, I design assignments to expand students' viewpoints and expose them to scientific literature. I challenge my students to attend outside lectures and debate topics, like fracking and water table contamination, to practice making critical decisions and grasp how they will impact our political process as informed voters.
I teach to make a long-term, positive impact on students' lives by making science fun, interesting and relevant. With a place to safely expand their thinking, they become more learned and scientifically literate individuals while I show the application of their knowledge for important challenges facing society. In the grand scheme, teaching sets the standard for a better world—one student at a time.
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