Teacher makes science personal

December 06, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Editor's note: This is the third in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

CLEAR SPRING - Aline Novak, a Clear Spring High School biology teacher since 1978, clearly has the respect of her peers as she seeks to help her students find science as fascinating as she does.

School staff took a vote on which teacher at the school should be profiled for this series.

The decision was unanimous to shine the spotlight on Novak, Principal Michael Shockey said Sunday

"I am overwhelmed at that," said Novak, of Hagerstown. "That is the highest recognition someone can have, is coming from their peers."

"She forms healthy relationships with kids from the first day of class," Shockey said. "She has a sense for what's right for kids in terms of the big picture."


Shockey pointed out that the Washington County Board of Education recently noted that, of all the county high schools, Clear Spring High School had the highest pass rate on the biology portion of the High School Assessments, a series of state standardized end-of-course exams.

A modest Novak said she can't take responsibility for that achievement.

"It is not just me. It is the whole staff," she said, pointing out that she could not be a good teacher without the help of the entire school staff.

Novak said she loves biology "because it is dynamic and ever-changing. New things are constantly being discovered."

Novak said she always has been interested in science, but it was while attending Pennsylvania State University that she decided to teach science.

She moved to Washington County after getting the job at Clear Spring, she said. She praises the Clear Spring area.

"I love it here. Now that I have been here awhile, I know a lot of the Clear Spring families. This is a great school," she said.

While Novak has been recognized for her teaching, what is more meaningful to her is when her students do well in competitions, she said.

When they do well, she said, "That is just great. I just get a grin on my face from ear to ear."

She likes to think that their accomplishments reflect how she taught them, she said.

Past students have done well at county science fairs and at state competitions run by the Maryland Instructional Computers Coordinators Association on desktop publishing and multimedia work, she said.

Novak believes it is key when teaching to find ways to connect the students to the subjects they are learning, she said.

"You make science personal. You have to make it personal," she said.

Her goal is to get students as active in their subjects as possible rather than just lecturing them on a topic, she said.

The class will discuss current events, for example, and she will tie together a topic like genetic research with the subjects they are studying, she said.

When studying ecology, she will take the class on a field trip to a river to study the water and land around it, she said.

Her favorite part of the job is hands-on work with students, she said, while the most difficult part is finding the time to prepare for classes.

"Teaching is a hard job, but it is a job that I love. But to do teaching right is very time-consuming," she said.

Novak also coaches golf at the school in the fall and tennis in the spring.

She is a golfer and counts gardening among her hobbies, she said. She says aspects of science and gardening cross over and she experiments with different vegetables and sees what works best in her garden, she said.

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