Education column: District host to quality teachers

In visiting classrooms across our school district, I am continually surprised by the caliber of educators we have.

One such remarkable teacher is Terry Pipkin, a science teacher at Marshall Middle School. Now in her 27th year of teaching, I had an opportunity to watch her preparing for a class and observe her interactions with students during her prep.

Pipkin has a unique gift for truly listening to students with a sort of focused warmth, seeming to see right inside a student’s head. It only takes a moment to see students not only respect, but also adore her.

Pipkin has always used creative, innovative methods of teaching. She is presently working with groups of students who are busily preparing a lesson to teach fellow students a concept during a class. She explained: “We are currently learning about the skeletal structure of the body. Students are divided into groups, and each group is preparing a lesson to teach the other students. Groups must address all aspects of the evaluation rubric, including vocabulary and information from a variety of references; not only the textbook, but also books from the public library and articles I’ve pulled for them. Each student has to participate in the collaborative presentation, and they grade each other according to pre-established criteria. The audience also grades the group presenting, all of which I take into consideration when awarding their grades.”

Lest anyone think that having students “teach” a lesson gives the teacher a break, this teaching strategy actually takes more time and effort to prepare for, but the way in which students absorb the science content really pays off. The students can choose from a variety of presentation enhancements, using all sorts of props, technology and so forth. Students get excited and involved in the process, and one group is using cell phone cameras to make stop-action clay animation to illustrate their presentation. A “body manual” will be the culminating product of these presentations, serving as the perfect review tool for state tests.

One student came in and joined our conversation. This young lady enthusiastically described other projects they’d done, but this was her favorite. “In some classes, we just open the textbook, read and answer questions, but in Mrs. Pipkin’s science class we do all sorts of interesting and fun things.”

Pipkin’s success comes from not only character and experience, but also from embracing the concept of being a lifelong learner. She’s presented at education conferences and confessed she was a “workshop-aholic,” always eager to sign up for learning opportunities and has literally traveled the world doing so. From a “workshop” in the Amazon rain forest of Peru, to building a school in Ghana for a month; from NASA workshops, to Washington D.C., Australia, and … well, you get the picture.

Not surprisingly, Pipkin has garnered numerous awards along the way, such as the Presidential Award of Excellence in Science Teaching for New Mexico. In fact, in lieu of an inspiring quote for this week, just drop by Mrs. Pipkin’s class. You’ll be inspired.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at: