Originally from Michigan, June Teisan has worked as an educator for the past thirty years. Twenty-seven of them were spent as a 7th grade science teacher. Teisan is currently Education Outreach and Program Specialist in NOAA’s (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Office of Education.
One of the aims of the Water/Ways project is to provide an entry way into conversations which explore water issues from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Of particular interest to the project is engaging all community members in discussions pertaining to issues facing their waterways. Youth education and development play an important role in the preparation of future stewards, residents who will go on to advocate for the health of their rivers and communities. June Teisan has worked as an educator for the past thirty years. A few years ago, her role moved from the traditional classroom setting to that of teacher educator.
Growing up in Southeast Michigan several blocks from Lake Saint Clair, a little delta lake connecting Lake Huron in the north to the Detroit River and Lake Erie in the south, June Teisan was fascinated by the natural world from an early age. After completing a B.A. in biology Teisan found herself wondering what her next steps would be. A career in a lab didn’t seem appealing, she loved the outdoors too much, and after some career advice in regards to teaching, she went on to complete a Master’s in Science Education, after which she spent twenty-seven years as a 7th grade science teacher. “It was fantastic, I loved it. It is such an exuberant age; they are self-maintaining because they are not little anymore, but they are not so cool yet that they go off on their own, and the doors are still open for inquiry and for new things.” And what about the challenges of engaging a group of 12-year olds, getting them excited about a subject area which can be intimidating for some? For Teisan, it’s key to “spark a flame.” “That really helps kids in the long run; and I think maybe because that is the age I was when I ran into a great science teacher in my eight- grade year, and she made me her lab assistant and just sort of set me free; I was in charge of the animals, setting up labs, and I was in charge of clean up and I loved it…that’s an age where it really grabbed me, so maybe that’s why I wanted to become a school teacher, a middle school science teacher.”
In order to “spark a flame” in her own students, Teisan relied on what she refers to her “toys,” her teaching tools. “I had black African millipedes that would grow the size of a hot dog with hundreds of legs. I had a classroom rabbit that would play games with you and bounce a ball back to you. I had hot chocolate ready in the mornings and Lego robotics kits sitting out…”Classroom pets like parakeets and their babies, a rabbit, or old machines like fans or computer for students to take apart, and a tall stand of books in which students could immerse themselves against the background of the activities of their peers, all of these tools helped to create an atmosphere of security and trust which allowed students to become engaged in science via a variety of interests. While creating a space which encouraged students to connect to and explore the subject material being presented, June understood the importance of going beyond the four walls of the classroom.
That was particularly true in regards to lessons on the Great Lakes. Her students were living within a mile and a half of beautiful water, wetlands, and marshes, yet few had had any exposure to them. Teisan tried to remedy the situation by writing grants and reaching out to various organizations and agencies. “Edsel Ford himself had a beautiful home on the shores of Lake St Clair and that is a mile and a half from my school. I approached them and said ‘Can I bring my kids to your shoreline?’ They have educational programs, but nobody had ever approached them in that regard. I said, ‘I want to build a long-term partnership with you.” The resulting partnership gave the students a better connection to a wider world. “A number of my students who really loved what we were doing left 7th grade and moved on to 8th grade, but they wanted to keep working with me on that, so we did science research clubs before and after school. They were doing the work, and then they were submitting it to on-line science fairs. And so when a kid who has never experienced a lake before gets an $800 or $1,000 prize check for their environmental research, they begin to think, ‘Hey, maybe I could be a water researcher, maybe I could do water-quality studies, maybe I would like to pursue this in college.’”
Some of June's students conduct water testing.
The “wow!” factor experienced by the students dispelled any reticence students initially expressed. “It changes, where they get interested in spite of themselves; and maybe they are not the ones that are digging into it, but they are hovering over the shoulders…no, no, no look its right there’ and finding that particular dragonfly nymph and just being amazed by it…. And from that you can go back to the classroom or on the sides of the shore and talk about what this means in the big picture. ‘If we’re not finding very many insects, what does that tell us about the quality of this water? Or, if we’re finding a particular kind of insect that shouldn’t be here, what does that say about invasive species?’”
One of June's students prepares for an activity while on a class trip.
Another important relationship Teisan developed was with the Michigan Sea Grant, a program which provides educators and the larger community with resources centered on water and its use. Her collaboration with the program led to training opportunities and helped to create a network of partnerships which provided opportunities to further immerse her students in their studies of the Great Lakes.
Such hands on engagement influences not only the futures students can envision for themselves but also impacts their behavior and interactions with the world. “We take for granted what comes out of our tap, and it is one thing to say ‘Turn the tap off when you are brushing your teeth. ‘It is another to say that after you have been to a waste-water treatment plant and say ‘We had to clean every bit of water that came through here.’ Some of them are so much savvier now because they can hear it and see it and read it…. I know the greening of our schools has had an impact over time.”
Four years ago, after 27 years in the classroom, June applied for an Einstein Fellowship which was established by Congress in the 1990s to bring STEM educators to DC to work in federal agencies and in legislative offices. She was offered a position in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Office of Education (NOAA). Teisan’s first year with NOAA was spent doing teacher professional development at national science teacher conferences. She later spent two weeks as a NOAA Teacher-At-Sea conducting research at thirty stations across the Gulf of Mexico, collecting data on blue fin tuna to regulate that fishery. One of NOAA’s strengths, Teisan states, is the value the agency places on the voices of educators. “Here, it’s ‘You are a teacher and we want to hear from you’…. I value the work they do, and I respect their mission. They are protecting the planet; they are taking the pulse from all the way to the surface of the sun to the deepest part of the ocean. It’s the air we breathe; it’s the storm that is coming and it’s heading to your grandma’s house. What are you going to do about it? How can you prepare in advance?”The agency’s emphasis on engaging various communities across the nation, whether through its internships for high-schoolers, support programs for undergraduate and graduate students, or on-line resources for elementary education has proven to be a good fit for Teisan given her Great Lake studies with her former students and her understanding of the challenges urban communities face in connecting kids to the outdoors. Her concern is providing more emphasis on the middle years. “They are still so receptive, and they are already thinking of what they want to do…if we can give them more specific resources or offer them opportunities that introduce them to research, or science, or engineering …that’s when you can spark the flame.”
June and her students prepare to launch a Basic Information Float (BIF) at Lake Erie Metropark
June's Water Story
Creating an engaging, safe space
Going beyond the four walls of a classroom
The Michigan Sea Grant
Science and the Humanities A
Science and the Humanities B
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NOAA Education Resources
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House- School & Youth Programs