By Holly Penta
Michelle Shirley has been teaching for 7 years. She taught for one year in Michigan, her home state, and the rest in Louisiana. Now, she teaches 6-8 grade science at Northwestern State University’s Middle Laboratory School. She is also the Jr. Beta co-sponsor.
When studying abroad in Ireland while in school herself, Shirley worked in a middle school. This is what “sealed the deal” and inspired her to become a teacher. She had always liked working with kids, but after her experience in Ireland, she said, “I knew where I wanted to be.”
Shirley knows students learn best when learning is fun and engaging, and one of her favorite teaching experiences was making bottle rockets. Through this fun experiment, the kids applied their scientific knowledge to make their rockets stay in the air the longest.
Since new science is being discovered every day, Shirley updates her lessons constantly to make sure the kids’ knowledge is current. Information about climate change, the human body, and astronomy is always being updated as scientists gain a better understanding of the universe.
“This new knowledge is pretty handy for the kids to have,” she said.
According to Shirley, college students planning to become teachers should keep in mind that they need to let their students see their passion. “A teacher’s excitement about WWII or Genetics can translate into students finding an interest in a topic that they didn’t know they had,” she said.
She has a similar message about the Beta Club. The club gives the students the chance to explore activities outside of their comfort zones and try things they haven’t done before. All the activities are related to academics, but incorporate the arts and other activities. For example, the club participated in “Living Literature,” where the kids dressed up and staged scenes from literature and TV shows, like the Magic School Bus and Lost in Space. Shirley says that many of the kids who participated in this were not drama kids, and she was impressed by how involved they got in the project. Beta also gives students the chance to test their academic knowledge against students from across the country. One student even ranked seventh in math in the national competition.
The kids are her favorite part about teaching. At Middle Lab she gets to instruct the same kids over 3 years, so she really gets to know each student and share her passion for science with them. Her excitement about the subject translates to the kids and helps them to better understand the material.
“Middle scholars are great,” she said. “Even though they may act too cool for school, they’re not.” Shirley thinks they’re the perfect age where they still get excited about school but are old enough to really make connections. Her love for her students is clear and it’s easy to see how her excitement about teaching gets them excited about learning.