Teaching IS Rocket Science


That’s my dad. The one sportin’ the mask, gloves, and Casio watch. This was the early 1980s. He’s probably still wearing that watch.

As a child, I sometimes visited my dad’s medical research lab. I remember lots of equipment. Lots of stainless steel and glass. Lots of lab coats hunched over microscopes. It was both inspiring and intimidating, and I was mesmerized.

Years later as a public school elementary educator, I too find myself in the lab, though it doesn’t look like my dad’s high tech space full of millions of dollars of equipment at all.

My lab is a classroom. Carpet stained with evidence of immeasurable learning and humaning. Chairs and desks that have hosted countless little minds, brilliant in different ways.

Every day after students have been dismissed, I watch teachers return to their labs to review the day’s data, prepare materials and procedures, ready to test a new set of hypotheses the next morning and draw new conclusions. This is the life cycle of a teacher.

But they can’t control all of the variables. Sometimes they feel more OH NO than AH-HA. These are the properties of my colleagues.

It is then I realize that I’m not too far removed from my father’s laboratory. Whether it’s his lab at Duke University or my kindergarten classroom at Center School, to the outside world we’re both doing research that this world has taught everyone to shake their heads at and say, “I could NEVER do what you do.” And they’re right. Because they couldn’t. Teaching IS rocket science. My colleagues ARE rocket scientists.

There’s one…

so devoted to improving educators’ working conditions, their ecosystems of teaching and learning, that they sign up for endless leadership roles and committees to actively participate in making change, plowing through the burnout they feels to help others, an organism willing to sacrifice itself for the good of the habitat.

There’s another…

Gently supporting dysregulated behaviors erupting all around them with the patience of igneous rocks on rugged mountaintops being weathered over millions of years from jagged peaks to rolling hills. They’re not looking for rapid changes to the students’ landscape, but rather weathering them over millions of interactions into new landscapes.

And yet another…

Concocts powerful solutions with the right mix of until they reach saturation of rich literacy. The chemistry of their approach, just right to meet everyone’s needs.

These are my colleagues. My fellow scientists. Endlessly experimenting using the skills they have without the materials they need. These brilliant geniuses that are meant to teach. This science–TEACHING–is so much more than “Aw, that’s cute”. Like my dad’s discoveries that led to medical relief — one teacher’s web of professionalization and another’s patient weathering and yet another’s perfect mixtures —

They ALL had specialized training.

They ALL collected data from various experiments until they were able to exclaim “Eureka!”

They ALL achieve results that only a select few could achieve.

So tell me teaching isn’t rocket science.

My colleagues make as many discoveries in their days as scientists in their labs. Teachers are the scientists that are promoting the evolution of our species. Teachers will continue to evolve with the times, returning to their labs to test new hypotheses and draw new conclusions every day. The life cycle of a teacher will endure this crisis…and the one after that.

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