This summer, science teacher Katherine Ward received the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) for the state of California award after being nominated by California Teacher Advisory Council (CalTAC) colleague Heidi Haugen.
Haugen nominated Ward based on the qualities Ward shares with other Outstanding Biology Teacher Award recipients.
“[Award evaluators] look for enthusiasm about biology and teaching and learning,” said Haugen, “[They] want to see outside the classroom and working with other teachers. She is a lifelong learner, devoted to her students and families and colleagues, and created rigorous and relevant learning experiences for all students.”
Haugen continued to describe Ward’s work ethic and experience. Haugen said, “She works with the Exploratorium and the robotics team … She brought a unique perspective to the [CalTAC], especially through the eyes of an AP [teacher] … She worked with policymakers to try to figure out what strategies and policies we can [improve] for all students … She is a high level thinker and that was truly a gift to our work on CalTAC.”
According to NABT, each state annually recognizes a biology teacher who has been teaching grades seven through 12 for at least three years. Their teaching abilities, school relationships and contributions to the community are all taken into consideration. The applicants submit multiple essays, a 20-minute video and letters of recommendations from their principals, colleagues and former students.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, she is always going to be there for you in class. When you’re not her student anymore, when you’re 25-years-old, she will always be there to help you out.”
Throughout the application process, Ward also requested the help of her students. Aragon alumnus Nicole Vanson and junior Akshay Bodla helped videotape a segment on the AP Biology lesson for her application last year.
“We said yes [to recording her] because … she was always there for me,” he said. “During a lab write up, she would constantly ask us questions like ‘Why do you think it’s this? Go more in-depth.’ Even if our assumptions are wrong, she would say, ‘That is true, but this is why it’s wrong, or ‘This is sort of correct.’ That really helped me think outside the box.”
Vanson explained her connection with Ward. “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, she is always going to be there for you in class,” she said. “When you’re not her student anymore, when you’re 25-years-old, she will always be there to help you out.”
Many other students and faculty members also praised Ward for her accomplishments.
In describing her help with opportunities around the community, senior Frank Liu said, “[Ms. Ward] gave me the opportunities to explore further biological programs outside of classrooms. She really grants her students opportunities outside of the classroom and talks to them and helps them in all aspects.”
“She’s always willing to bounce ideas off of you,” added chemistry teacher Leigh-Anne Ecklund. “She’s willing to come in and observe you to let you know what she notices and say, ‘Hey, you may want to look at this this, and this.’ She also lets you know, ‘Hey, I saw amazing things happen in your class, too.’… She gives so much of herself to her students and to colleagues when she’s working with them.”
This year was the second year she was invited to apply. Ward took this opportunity to improve herself and her application by acknowledging her mistakes and applying others’ advice to produce a better application, representative of her teaching style.
[The award] is a challenge for me to go out there and just get better: be more skilled at teaching, be more creative at teaching, be more creative at understanding learning and how you can elicit that from students, how you’re going to get them to show you that they’ve learned.
“It gives me an opportunity to go back and look at it and say, ‘I can see why that video didn’t represent what I wanted it to represent,’” Ward said.
“The last time I just sent in unedited 20 minutes. This time I took lessons that happened over a couple of days, that were all sequential, and pieced them together so that they could see the entire story,” Ward added. “They could see how it was introduced, what I had the kids then do, and then how we wrapped it up, rather than just seeing 20 minutes of just how I’m introducing it or of just what the kids are doing.”
Ward believes the award motivates her to improve her teaching in order to live up to these standards.
“I’m incredibly honored and really humbled,” she said. “[The award] is a challenge for me to go out there and just get better: be more skilled at teaching, be more creative at teaching, be more creative at understanding learning and how you can elicit that from students, how you’re going to get them to show you that they’ve learned. I think it just makes me more determined. It also really makes me realize that I’ve come a long way and there’s a nice recognition there. ”