Morristown, N.J. (August 27, 2015) – A popular bumper sticker found on cars today reads, "If you can read this, thank a teacher." One of the College's alums, Derrick Wood of Malvern, Pa., who teaches chemistry at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pa., received the ultimate thanks when he became one of 107 math and science teachers nationwide to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The award was signed by President Barack Obama and conferred by Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Frances A. Córdova.
The application process was long and arduous. After being nominated, Wood had to complete an extensive application that included a 45-minute taped classroom session, written essays on his teaching protocols and philosophy, a student, peer, and supervisor recommendation and his students test scores.
"The process was worthwhile in terms of assessing how you are doing," he recalls. "Taking the time to self-reflect is valuable in order to become a better teacher."
After all the nominations are sent to the departments of education in each state, five finalists for math and five for science are then forwarded to the federal level for consideration. Of these five (per subject), two teachers per state are chosen to be recognized, one for math and one for science.
Wood traveled to Washington D.C. to receive his award and enjoy an experience of a lifetime. He and his fellow educators got a tour of the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy where there was much conversation about STEM education. They had a day-long session at the National Science Foundation for professional development. "Being with science and math teachers from all over the country was an amazing experience," says Wood. "We shared so many ideas." Of course, the highlight of the event was meeting President Obama. "He is very committed to STEM education and was very interested in our thoughts," Wood recalls. "He has an extensive knowledge and sees the real value of teaching science and technology." Wood was also interviewed by NBC News during which he gave a shout out to his professors who inspired him to go into teaching.
For Wood, teaching science is more than just imparting information; it is instilling skills such as inquiry, problem solving, and critical thinking. "It should be experiential and authentic, as case studies are used to replicate experiments," he notes.
Many of his students have moved into successful fields and attended schools such as Harvard and Oxford. "One of my students published in the journal Nature which is quite prestigious," he says. "I count among my former students numerous doctors, engineers, and a Marshall Scholar. It is a blessing for me to know that as a teacher, I had some influence on their love of learning."
Wood was part of a cooperative program with Drew University that allowed him to earn his teaching credits at CSE while taking his science courses at Drew. Wood notes that the professors he had at both Drew University and the College of Saint Elizabeth gave him the best of both worlds – learning science and learning how to teach. "I learned best practices at CSE which I continue to use in my classroom," he explains. "Dr. Schall was one of my professors who inspired me not only to teach, but to be passionate about teaching."
"Keep your teachers informed of where you have gone and what you have done," Wood advises. "We enjoy knowing where our students have taken their education and their dreams."