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Featured Teacher Spotlight: Anthony McElligott, Sci Academy

A few weeks ago, we revealed the second Teacher Feature of the school year. This Teacher Feature was particularly notable because it represented the first time in Collegiate Academies history that a teacher received this honor not just once, but twice! Today, we invite you to get to know Anthony in more detail and learn about his course and current projects. And, don’t miss the resources he has shared throughout the interview, where you can access some of the materials he has used to teach scholars about everything from the elements present in smart phones to fiberglass insulation!

How did you get into teaching?

I did Teach For America after college. I decided to do Teach For America because of all of the posters I saw around my college campus that demonstrated the state of the achievement gap throughout the country. I was really thankful for my own education, and I realized how important it was in helping me be in a position to go to college. I thought it was unfair that so many kids weren’t in that position.

What has sustained you as a teacher for 7 years?

I think seeing myself and my classroom get better every year has kept me teaching. When I first started teaching, I was very much okay knowing that I reached just one or two students. Then, as I got better, one student wasn’t enough. I wanted 10, then 20, then 100. Getting closer and closer to seeing all of my students succeed is the thing that has made me want to come back every year. At Sci Academy, I have found a space that is helping me grow, and helping me see that what I believed when I first started teaching really is possible. I can imagine teachers at other schools feeling frustrated with their own lack of progress or lack of student progress, and feeling like they aren’t cut out for this work. But at Sci Academy, I am constantly being given the tools I need to grow and the support to be successful.

Who is a teacher you admire and why?

I really admire Brent Maddin. He was a TFA corps member in South Louisiana, and has since become the provost at Relay Graduate School of Education. He was my professor when I was getting my Masters in the Art of Teaching. Before I started that program, I remember seeing Brent’s materials on the TFA Network Sharing resource when I was a Corps Member. You could search for his name and come up with 5,000 different resources, and each of them were so great for when you weren’t sure what to do next. Now that I’ve met him, I can see that he is the real deal. He knows so much about teaching science, holding kids to high expectations, and trying things out in really purposeful ways. I’ve learned a lot by being his student.

In your Teacher Feature, one of the themes that emerged was the way you plan your content to engage kids in real world applications. Ben Ifshin (Biology teacher at Sci Academy) talked about how you embed your enduring understandings and essential questions in your lessons. What have you changed or done differently to make this such a core part of your course?

I spent a lot of time over the past summer looking at the Next Generation Science Standards, and going through all of the appendices to see what an ideal science class should be aiming for. That opened up my mind a lot. I also read a lot more about science—not just how to teach, but also popular science books that you can find at Barnes and Noble. It’s given me more context for every lesson, more of a purpose to strive for rather than just mastering an exit ticket or doing well on a test.

Right now we’re working on periodic trends, which I used to think of mainly as an opportunity for kids to practice graphing. Now, I focus on patterns. We’re looking at an infographic about which elements are in cell phones, and kids are hypothesizing what elements we could change to keep cell phones from freezing, fix broken screens, address low battery life, etc. This is something they could look at again when they do their Capstone Projects as seniors. I’m thinking a lot about how what we do could lend itself to a larger project. We’ve done something real, and we’ve had to put real thought into a problem where there isn’t a single answer. I hope that I am giving them sparks of what they could do, both as their Capstone Project, but also when they grow up.

In one of the interviews that didn’t make your video, Aidan (Sci Academy’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction) talked about the way you use rubrics. Could you describe the way you’ve changed how you use rubrics over time?

I very rarely used rubrics before this year. In the past, they were mostly for behavior and I would cross points off in lab if you were talking too loud, etc. Now, my rubrics are very focused on academics and academic outputs of bigger things. The rubrics I use now help me have a stronger gauge on what misconceptions kids might have when the lesson themes are not black and white. This year, rubrics have helped push me to think about how science is used in the real world, not just how you can find a single answer. I’m pushing kids to develop good conclusions—not just accurate ones, but also persuasive ones.

Who’s that one kid who has just grown so much, that his/her story will stick with you forever?

I’ve always been impressed with Nghi Pham’s growth. She came into our school not speaking English at all but just worked so hard every single day—not just in chemistry, but in all of her courses. She was so invested in science and really worked hard to explain her thoughts in English. She worked so hard to understand the concepts behind chemistry, not just how to get to the right answer, but also pushing herself to ask really good questions. When she was in my class, you could see the wheels turning. I remember looking at her interim assessment data her sophomore year seeing her move from completely failing, to close to passing, to hitting the college ready bar, and reaching the 2nd highest score on the final exam. She was truly a model of what grit and optimism can do for your academic trajectory.

Where do you think teaching is as a profession? Where do you want to see it go?

I think teaching is still an undervalued profession. I think about how hard I work, how hard my peers work, and the amount of expertise there is around our school. I would like to see teaching return to where I know it once had been—as a really well respected profession, that attracted only the best of the best. There are a lot of other things that need to be put in place before that can happen, but I’d like to see it get back there. I was reading an article over break and someone who had been a teacher in Finland said the difference between teaching in America and teaching in Finland is that in Finland, only the best college students get to go on to teacher college, and only those who can make it and prove that they can make it in teacher college get to actually become teachers. That’s what doctors are like here. I would like to see teaching become more like the medical field, where you have to work really hard, and only the best get the opportunity to help shape the future of society.

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