She's Simply the Best

"When kinetic Coupeville Middle School science teacher Terry Welch sits at her desk, something she rarely does, Albert Einstein looks over her shoulder. The poster of “old Al” speaks clearly in bold lettering that “Imagination is more important than knowledge” — something Welch has definitely taken to heart.Welch’s colleagues and students say it is her imagination, knowledge, care and spirit that recently earned her the 1989-1999 Middle-Level Science Teacher of the Year Award from the Washington Science Teachers Association.“She is so cool,” said sixth-grader Amanda Sterling, 11, stretching the word “so” to about three-times its normal length. “She teaches us fun ways to remember and she also makes everything clear.”As if testing the bounds of relativity, Welch appears to be almost everywhere at once in her classroom. A glance in one direction shows her sitting with a student formulating a hypothesis; a look the other way catches her helping another student measure the impact of a marble “meteor” on a laboratory-version of the moon’s surface. Yet another glance has her reminding a student to wear his goggles.Welch’s faded pink lab coat features numerous buttons and pins representing the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington State Parks, NASA and Cracker Jack.“She’s great,” said student Elijah Jones, 11, “She’s good at giving directions and she takes time to help people.”Welch was nominated for the award by Coupeville Middle School Principal Phyllis Textor and by district Superintendent Suzanne Bond. She will receive her honor at a special presentation in Spokane Oct. 29.Suggesting Welch for the award wasn’t difficult, Textor said. “The kids love her,” said Textor. “They stand in line to get into her class.”Textor said Welch gets students excited about science by showing them how it works in real life. When she can, she moves kids out of the classroom and into the outdoor environment of wetlands, waters and woods and has them make things such as compost bins and nature videos. In addition, she volunteers for many after-school programs.“She’s always one I can count on,” Textor said. “She is a professional from morning to night.”Welch, who is only in her fourth year of public school teaching, said the award came as a complete surprise.“I was the last to know,” she said. “I hadn’t even thought about it.”The award comes with $750 to be spent on classroom materials.Despite the accolades, Welch describes herself as a pretty traditional teacher who was first spurred to science when she was about the same age as her current students.“My middle school science teacher was right out of college. He gave me the interest in it and the confidence that I could do it,” she said. “My father was also a real inspiration. He got me interested in nature and gave me a love of nature that I try to pass along to my kids.”It appears to be working.“She makes everything fun. She even makes test fun,” said sixth-grade student Jennifer Bailey, 11. Sometimes that means putting unusual questions on a quiz just to see if the kids are following directions. It also means talking to the kids like real people, Welch said.“She uses funny slang words like dude and radical and awesome,” said student Shane Hudson, 10.Though Welch had originally decided to work as a scientist, she became excited about teaching while she worked for an environmental education program in Minnesota.“It was the most fun I’d had in my life,” she said. From that point she chose to go back to school and earn a master’s degree in science education. FEMALE ROLE MODELToday, she sees herself not only as a teacher but as a role model — particularly to middle school girls. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, up until age 13 girls and boys show about the same abilities in science and math tests. After that point, however, girls’ interest in science and their test scores begin to drop. By the end of high school they have fallen behind the boys by about 11 percent.“When I can talk about females in science I do,” Welch said. “I think think it’s very important to promote women in science fields. It’s also about showing the kids career opportunities.”Part of keeping the interest alive in kids is showing them how science is all around them. As a result, Welch uses a lot of practical experiments and hands-on demonstrations.“It’s bringing the real world into the classroom so they can see how what they learn here can be used at home. Otherwise they’re not going to be interested in it,” she said.When she’s not teaching, Welch is learning. She has spent her summers studying conifers with environmental ecologists from Weyerhaeuser as well as molecular biology and genetics with scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Research Center. By working in such professional situations, Welch said she can see what kind of work environment awaits her students in the future.“They tell me the biggest thing employers are looking for is people who can work together,” she said. “It’s a team effort. You see that more and more in the real world.”For Welch, working together and sharing is a trademark of her classroom and her relationship with her students.“They energize me quite a bit, and they also make me think. Seeing them get excited in something is what turns me on,” said Welch. “Some may go on to be scientists in the future. Maybe it will be because of my class.”"

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