Spotlight: 10 Questions for Lisa Rodgers (CO '17)February 12, 2018
Biology teacher Lisa Rodgers (CO ’17) isn’t sure students will remember the exact content of her classes, but she thinks the process will stick: “I hope they remember how to engage in scientific inquiry so they can reliably answer their own questions later in life.” Lisa won Colorado’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award on October 31, 2017, at Grandview High School in Aurora.
1. What went through your mind when you heard Lowell call your name at your surprise notification?
Lisa Rodgers: First, denial: “Surely they are confused; I’m just a teacher.” Then there was mystery: “How is it possible that I won an award that I’d never even heard of?” Finally, curiosity: “What just happened?”
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Lisa: Amusingly, my ninth-grade students were surprised when I came back to school the next day. To them, I had won enough money to retire! They didn’t expect to ever see me again.
What was most fun for me was hearing from past students—kids from several years ago, writing me from college with congratulations and accolades, some telling me they are now biology majors because of the impact my class had on them. That’s been most special for me over the last few months.
3. How did you end up in education?
Lisa: It was unintentional! My student teaching experience was fairly rough. In hindsight, it was probably because I was so young: only 22, teaching 17- and 18-year-old seniors. After that, I threw in the towel on teaching altogether and decided I would be a research scientist, returning to graduate school to study zoology. My tuition was covered by Colorado State University in exchange for teaching undergraduate lab courses, as is typically the case for graduate students in science. During that experience, I found the love for teaching that I had anticipated a few years earlier.
Having that second chance was absolutely crucial for me. I ended up finishing my master’s and then immediately applying for jobs back in education. I haven’t looked back since.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Lisa: My graduate supervisor, who was so consistent in her expectations and feedback; she defined success so clearly that it was easy to hit the target. My mom, who was so supportive in believing that I could do or be anything I wanted. My first-year mentor, who could take rude students and turn their attitude around in less than 30 seconds through what I can only assume is magic. And last, the science philosopher, Karl Popper, who teaches us the importance of falsifiability in scientific inquiry.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Lisa: Attempting to survive! Honestly, that first year is such a haze, all I remember are the endless days of planning and inventing lessons. And fighting with the copy machine—I swear those things detect first-year teachers and punish them unnecessarily.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Lisa: I hope they remember all the things that we did. I honestly doubt students will remember specific content from my classroom, but I hope they will remember how to engage in scientific inquiry and how to reliably answer their own questions later in life.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Lisa: Time. There are so many incredible lessons, labs, animations and demonstrations. I can’t do them all. Figuring out what to cut in order to cover the breadth of content to the depth that I’d like is an annual battle. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, but I’d love more time with my students.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Lisa: For now, it’s still a bit up in the air. Most likely I’ll buy a car with it once my current 13-year old beast finally bites the dust. That said, I’m not rushing into anything.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Lisa: I believe many individuals who are interested in education don’t realize the extent of a teacher’s role in a school or community. So this situation is one I try to handle delicately. First, I tell them that I think they’d be a great teacher. Then I encourage students to shadow a teacher at some point in college long before committing to the coursework and student teaching responsibilities. I’ve seen far too many young people commit massive amounts of time and money to this career only to realize it’s not what they thought it was.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Lisa: Embracing the idea that perfection does not exist, but consistently pressing to achieve it anyway.
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