Jessica Beckham's Experience Teaching Science in Oakland, CA

Alumna Jessica Beckham talks about how her ENVS major helped shape her science teaching.

July 22, 2013

I graduated in 2007 with a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Education. I focused much of my environmental studies classes within ecology, literature, and educational applications. I did an internship with Life Lab at the UCSC farm as a part of Environmental Interpretation (ENVS 179). I spend my time that spring teaching students out in the fields of the farm, and loved it so much that I returned the following year to complete my Senior Internship. In addition to continued work with the field trip programs, I also helped launch the Farm-to-Fork field trip program, and created a new first grade field trip program.

Four days after graduation, I went for an interview at St. Joseph Elementary School in Alameda. What I thought was a curriculum development position turned out to be a full time teaching job. And what I thought was a “great practice interview” turned into a job offer that would start the most rewarding six years of my life. Since then, I have spent my time trying out the theories that I learned about during my education classes, finding what works, and what absolutely does not. I have attempted to instill in my students a love of science that I myself discovered in my ecology-based classes in the Environmental Studies department. During my second year I also worked to get my teaching credentials from CSU East Bay, and during my fifth year I cleared my credential. The last six years have been a blur, and I can’t believe I’ve made it this far.

As the science teacher at a Catholic elementary school, I teach fourth through eighth grade and I see 150 students on a daily basis. While some areas of the curriculum aren’t my favorite, there are times when my love of the natural world gets to shine. I love showing my fourth graders the compost bin out in the garden while teaching the foundation of nutrient recycling. In seventh grade we get to learn about how living things function, from single-celled bacteria to the human circulatory system. I’ve even found a love of chemistry teaching my eighth graders the basics of chemical reactions. As a highlight to my year, the sixth graders learn about ecology. As a capstone to the unit, we go away to Caritas Creek camp for a week in the spring. While it’s hard to leave my other students behind, (and being in charge of all of the medication is a huge responsibility), it’s the best week out of my entire school year. It gets me back to my “roots” of outdoor education. I can honestly say that the love of the natural world that I found while at UCSC has shaped me to be the science teacher that I am today. The opportunities that I took advantage of, mainly the internship program within the Environmental Studies department, gave me the tools, drive, and knowledge that have made me a successful educator today.

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