WASHINGTON – For Baltimore county physics teacher Jonathan Roland, it all comes down to the same thing, whether he is trying to keep the attention of high school students or members of Congress: “You wet your pants.”
The Perry Hall High School teacher poured a cup of water on his pants leg Thursday to make a point to the House Committee on Science, which called award-winning math and science teachers like Roland to testify on ways the government can help foster innovative teaching methods.
It is the same demonstration Roland uses to make a point to students on scientific inquiry, forcing them to ask probing questions about seemingly simple things — like wet pants — and how they got to be that way.
“I am probably not the first person you’ve seen wet his pants while giving testimony to the committee,” Roland said.
Roland was one of four teachers who told the committee that most teachers love what they do and can be counted on to educate their students — but they need some support from the government and some freedom from test-driven curricula.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said in a prepared statement that Congress needs to hear from the people in the trenches, people like Roland, to find out what the education system really needs.
“You’d think that this sort of hearing would be happening all the time, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case,” Boehlert said. “Instead, Congress talks constantly about education, but it rarely listens, and it listens least of all to the most important experts — actual classroom teachers, the folks at the front lines of our nation’s educational system.”
The teachers called Thursday were the cream of the crop.
The four who testified were part of a group of 95 teachers — most of whom were at the hearing — who are being honored all week for winning the 2003 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The teachers come from across the country.
The awards program, established in 1983 by the White House, identifies outstanding science and math teachers, alternating between kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers one year and teachers in seventh through 12th grade the next year.
“These outstanding teachers show us what excellent teaching looks like,” said Mark Saul, the awards project director. “They have a passion for their subject and a dedication to their students. They know how to bring out the best in every student, in every kind of school.
“We hope their example will stimulate the creativity of other teachers and help to attract new recruits to the mathematics and science teaching profession,” Saul said.
The award is based on a teacher’s commitment to education, a videotaped lesson and a rigorous in-state elimination process. Winners were announced earlier this month.
Each winner gets a presidential citation and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. But Roland said teaching is enough of a reward in itself.
“I am addicted to the rush of watching the lights go on and equipping students with fresh new skills, new knowledge or great attitudes,” he said during his testimony. “Nothing rewards me more than when my students initiate and conduct investigations. I love seeing a class mature from an orchestra into an organism, a community of learners.”
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