Temporary Job Becomes Life-Long Passion For Teacher

Published: August 21, 2006 | 4592nd good news item since 2003

Teaching science was only supposed to be a temporary job for Deborah Drab.

The now 22-year veteran of Long Beach Unified School District schools had been teaching elementary school early in her career when her principal at the time asked if she would take over the science program. Although she knew only a little about the life and earth sciences and even less about physical science, she agreed. She said she figured she’d do it for a couple of years as she decided what she really wanted to do. In those couple of years, though, she found her calling.

“Science is what I enjoyed the most,” said Drab, who currently teaches sixth grade at Tincher K-8 School in east Long Beach. “I think it’s important for teachers to be excited about what they do.”

Others have noticed her love of science. Recently Drab was named as a California finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), a Congressionally-mandated awards program that is considered the highest honor in those teaching fields.

Each state and United States territory is allowed to nominate three math and three science teachers for consideration, with one from each subject from each state and territory ultimately being selected. The prize is $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, which administers the program, as well as professional development seminars, and teaching tools donated by sponsor corporations and government agencies.

“I could think of a zillion things I could do for my classroom with that money,” Drab said this week during a break teaching the Young Scientists Camp on the campus of California State University, Long Beach.

Such an award would mean many more trips to Home Depot, where Drab often finds materials that her classes will use in various experiments. She said she often wanders the warehouse looking for inspiration for her next experiment.

“I’m always looking for new ideas. I never do things straight from the book,” she said. “I know the concepts I want to teach, so I’m always looking for new ways to teach them.”

These experiments are a major part of her class. She said she truly believes in hand-on learning.

“Science is not reading out of books. True, scientists are doing research, but scientists aren’t just reading books. My students are scientists,” she said as her young scientists at science camp prepared to design and build bridges that would span 24 inches and could hold 10 pounds. “I want them to do it themselves. I know the kids, they get something out of it.

“The think that makes me feel really good is when I see former students who have become teachers and they tell me, ‘The reason I’m a teacher is because of you.’”

The process of applying for consideration as a PAEMST finalist turned out to be a beneficial one for Drab. She admitted that she almost didn’t do it because she only had a week to complete the application. She changed her mind, saying that she did so just to go through the exercise.

“I thought it would be good for me to do. It forced me to reflect on my teaching. I’m pleased with having done that,” Drab said.

Drab won’t find out until sometime in early 2007 if she will be chosen as the science teacher awardee for California. Until then, she and the five other California finalists will be honored by the state Department of Education in November.

Published in Teachers
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