Podcast #227 – Teaching High School Chemistry as an Encore Career with Keith Stolzenbach
This week I am speaking with Keith Stolzenbach, who I was introduced to by my friends at EnCorps STEM Teachers Program. Keith spent much of his career as a professor at MIT and UCLA. When he decided to retire in his late 60s he decided to become a high school science teacher. With the help from the EnCorps program, he is now a chemistry teacher at what is referred to as a Title 1 high school. Title 1 schools get extra assistance from the state and federal government as the majority of the students qualify for financial assistance. When I taught high school math, I taught in a Title 1 school which meant that most of my students qualified for free or reduced-price meals.
I want you to hear Keith’s story, which I found quite inspiring.
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Now on to the podcast…
Life Before Teaching
Before becoming a high school teacher Keith spent years as a government employee – civil and environmental engineering.
The rest of his career was as a university faculty member in the same field on the east coast and UCLA for about 25 years.
He then transitioned to high school teaching.
Why High School Teaching?
Keith always made it a priority, when he was a university professor, to teach. Teaching wasn’t always a good choice for university professors but he really enjoyed it.
He also had a great physics teacher in high school so he had a great experience with the field of teaching.
When he went to college they had a side program to get a degree in education while working on a main degree.
This was where Keith returned to his earlier dream of being a high school teacher.
What Process Was Followed To Teach?
There are lots of pathways to teaching high school.
They can just throw someone in after orientation and the person learns on the job. Or there are paths with a little more prep.
Keith was lucky enough to have the time and a little money to take a full year as a student-teacher at the same time as he was taking his educational classes. The student-teacher was the key to being prepared to go into a classroom himself.
Teaching in a Title 1 School
Keith taught in Los Angeles in a Title 1 school. Title 1 requires a sufficient number of students to be from a lower economic status.
These students get 1.5 times what the school gets in money and virtually 100% of the students qualify for this income.
The communities are poor, stressed by employment issues, crime, and violence. One of the things teachers are taught is that there is this level of trauma in the student’s life and how to relate to the students.
One of the major issues is speaking the language to communicate. Keith couldn’t speak Spanish fluently and many of the students couldn’t speak English fluently – if at all. There were processes in place to help with this issue – some of which were pairing students that had been there longer with the newcomers.
Class size is anywhere from 20-35 depending on the schedule. The goal is to avoid large classes. That works in most cases.
Challenges and Goals
The biggest challenge is to get the students engaged. Teachers want them to take responsibility for learning but also enjoy the class. The students are not always eager to be so engaged.
The goal is to connect their learning to their community and make them aware of why they’re taking the class in the first place.
The complete process of teaching is Keith’s inspiration. Getting up every day, going to work, and doing what he loves doing. In addition, the students come from a stressful environment but when Keith closes his eyes and listens… they’re just high school students like every other high school student.
They’re great kids.
Teaching During the Pandemic
Keith said teachers, in his opinion, were not really teaching during the Pandemic.
100% of the classes were on Zoom even though they were back in the building. Only 20% were back in the building at that.
Some students didn’t have working computers. And, if the computers did work, the student could have home situations that were an issue. The student didn’t want anyone to see the home or hear what was going on in the background. So many students were online with no video and/or no microphone.
Everything was done by chat so it’s like everyone is just going through the motions.
How long will Keith keep doing this?
He thinks that 10 more years would be a stretch – but maybe another 5 years if his health holds up.
Then, perhaps, he could move on to his next encore.
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