Spotlight: 10 Questions for Erika Klose (WV ’17)February 23, 2018
Geologist Erika Klose (WV ’17) wants students to leave her class with the confidence to pursue challenging STEM careers: “My goal is to create positive experiences in science for all students.” She received West Virginia’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award at Winfield Middle School on October 30, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Erika Klose: When Jane [Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards] called my name, I was stunned. Someone had truly recognized my dedication to my students and to education. I thought, “Remember this. All the hard work was worth it.” While not everyone gets the opportunity to win a Milken Award, all educators need to be reminded that what we do is worth it. It’s so important to know that someone notices what you’re doing. I try to make sure that my colleagues and my students know that the hard work they do is noticed. My colleagues are some of the hardest-working individuals I know, and we all need to be noticed and recognized for the hard work we put in.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Erika: My students were so excited. One student said, “I knew it was you. It had to be you!” When they were chanting my name, I remember feeling so loved. I try so hard to love every kid who comes through my door—that day, I felt all the love return. When I returned to my classroom they wanted selfies and photos. I just enjoyed it. We had the best day.
My students know that they go to an amazing school. We talk about it all the time. But I think that they really felt important that day. They recognized the politicians and dignitaries who were at the ceremony. They knew that it was a huge honor for the school, as well as for me. Since that day, whenever it comes up, we always talk about how it takes teamwork and a shared vision to have a school where teachers can excel and bring their best every day. I am able to do all that I can do because I work in an environment where education is emphasized and the welfare of our students is our primary focus. We have a mission to educate the children we are blessed to have in our school. I am always encouraged to think outside the box to make that education possible.
3. How did you end up in education?
Erika: My father was a professor and as a child, everywhere we went, a former student was always stopping Mr. Klose to talk to him. As a child, this was aggravating, but I’ve never forgotten how proud I was that everyone loved my dad. He was kind and a gifted teacher.
I always believed that I would be a teacher. I majored in geology in college and completed a master’s (also in geology) directly after college. I had so many great opportunities in science, and I kept taking them. An internship at the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole (Massachusetts) quickly turned into a full-time, and then permanent, position. After six years of working as a geologist, I began doing outreach for our office. Working in the schools as an informal educator quickly showed me that I needed to be in the classroom. While those days in the school were some of the most exhausting of my life, they were the most rewarding. As soon as I realized, and admitted, that fact, I began a master’s program in teaching.
I’ve been at Winfield Middle School since I finished my student teaching and have never regretted changing my career. I knew that I wanted to teach middle school—I believe that students make huge decisions about their future based upon their experiences in middle school. My goal is to create positive experiences in science for all students so that they don’t perceive any barriers to their pursuit of a career, whatever their ultimate choice may be.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Erika: My role models are the kind and caring teachers I have worked with over the years. They are the teachers who know their students well and educate the whole child. My science teacher role models are those who are able to creatively craft experiences for their students. These individuals deliver content through experience. When I think back to my own special teachers, it is always those teachers who took the time to build strong relationships with me. I remember their kindness and attention to me. I try to give my own students those strong feelings of acceptance and caring.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Erika: My first year of teaching was a challenge. I was prepared for teaching, but nothing had prepared me for that feeling of being alone in a classroom with a whole class of students.
What I remember from that first year was the kindness of the teachers I worked with. These women worked as a team with the single goal of doing the best for our students. That first year, too, my students were so good to me. I started teaching in January, between the first and second semester. While it was new to me, it was routine for my students. A few of them helped me, demonstrating tremendous leadership in their attempts to corral student support for the new teacher. They succeeded and I have never forgotten their kindness.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Erika: That we have fun and know they are safe with me. They remember patience and kindness. They remember exciting activities, like dissecting cow eyes. They remember how I made them feel. They leave my class feeling valued and supported. My goal is that they remember that they are important people and that they were important to me. My dream is that they will enter science, but if they don’t, my hope is that they never feel scared of science or a career in STEM. My students can do anything and they should know it!
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Erika: Reaching all students. Every student learns differently and meeting their needs is of the utmost importance. But, while it’s a challenge, it’s also a must. Varying instruction, formatively assessing students, and having conversation after conversation with students makes this possible.
Reaching students with their own interests is a primary focus for me. For example, we remodeled our local science fair into a STEM expo. Our STEM expo has seven different categories where students create projects they have a true and vested interest in. They conduct authentic scientific research, build Rube Goldberg machines, and write science fiction. Students choose how they want to demonstrate their science learning. Reaching all students starts with knowing students, knowing their interests, knowing their families, and using all that information to give them the education they deserve.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Erika: I plan on investing in my continued self-development. I’m also going to do a few exciting things and some practical things. It’s a huge blessing and I am so thankful for it!
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Erika: I would say, “Go for it! Think of your favorite teacher. What made that person your favorite?” I believe that it won’t be the content that the student mentions as their reason for choosing a favorite. It’s going to be how their teacher made them feel and how they felt in their classroom. Learning only happens when students feel safe, secure, and engaged.
I would tell my students that they need to learn their content and learn it well. But I would also tell them that they won’t just be teachers of content—they’ll be teachers of students. And they need to prepare themselves just as much to teach with creativity, enthusiasm, and love, as they prepare themselves with content and pedagogy. Their students will remember their demonstration of creativity, enthusiasm, and love. It’s a tough job, but it is a great opportunity to change lives forever.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Erika: Success is doing your very best. It’s moving beyond what’s comfortable and attempting what seems difficult or nearly impossible. Success is seeing a challenge and accepting it. It’s proving to yourself that hard work is worth it. Success isn’t measured by awards, but by all the small things we accomplish each day to prove to ourselves and others not only that we can, but we do.
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