'Science is not a spectator sport'
Montana's 2004 Teacher of the Year selected
Bozeman and Hardin teachers selected as finalists
Alyson Mike was speechless last week when learned she'd been selected as Montana's 2004 Teacher of the Year. "People at work told me it was the first time they'd ever seen me at a loss for words," she laughed.
Mike, a physical science teacher at East Valley Middle School in East Helena, was chosen by a committee including the 2003 Montana Teacher of the Year, other educators, a parent and PTA board member, a student teacher, and an Office of Public Instruction official.
Montana's Teacher of the Year program annually honors a teacher who exemplifies excellence in the teaching profession. The program is sponsored by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes great teaching.
Mike's enthusiasm for learning is "contagious," said Jennifer Mow, a teaching colleague at East Valley. "Her students love science; they can't wait to see what's going to happen in class that day. She never sells even one single student short, expecting the best of them and teaching them to expect the best of themselves."
"When my children or their friends are asked which teacher made the most impact on them, Ms. Mike is commonly the teacher they refer to," said East Helena parent Julie Buchman. "In a word, they think Ms. Mike is 'awesome.'"
Mike said her teaching success depends on making a personal connection with each of her students. That's the "hook that grabs the students and allows me to teach," she said. "I connect with every kid twice every day."
Once students are hooked, they're in for an unforgettable journey. "Science is not a spectator sport," Mike said. She believes in lots of hands-on activities to teach science concepts.
For example, in her unit on chemical reactions, Mike's students have to build a vehicle powered solely by Alka-Seltzer. They design and build bridges out of balsa wood to demonstrate weight-bearing principles. They must design a boat that will go at least eight feet powered by either a simple machine or electricity to show their understanding of those science concepts.
Because parents like to get in on the action too, Mike holds a science competition just for parents, to make sure students get to do their own projects.
That's just one way she connects with parents. Mike also sends out a monthly e-mail newsletter to parents, keeping them posted on what the class is doing, due dates for assignments, and web sites parents can use to help their children learn. "Parents love it," she said.
And when Mike found herself spending nearly $2,000 a year out of her own pocket to buy science supplies, she helped create "science stocks." Parents buy stock certificates for a dollar per share, and the money goes to the school's science department for supplies. Even though East Helena schools have struggled with funding cuts recently, "kids didn't miss out on anything because parents pitched in," she said.
Mike's passion for teaching goes far beyond the classroom. Every other year, she organizes a non-school sponsored science trip to Seattle for up to 45 students. She mentors new teachers and shares her knowledge to help experienced teachers teach their best.
Mike says her greatest accomplishment in education is achieving National Board Certification, the highest level of certification a U.S. teacher can achieve. "The process has had a profound impact on my teaching," she said.
Outside the school community, Mike has devoted her time to volunteering at a summer camp for physically handicapped children, helping resurrect a science facility for statewide use, and providing respite care for a physically handicapped person.
"Alyson Mike typifies thousands of teachers across the state who have hearts and commitment to match Montana's Big Sky," said Eric Feaver, chair of the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.
As Montana's Teacher of the Year, Mike will represent Montana at the National Teacher of the Year event. She will also serve as a spokesperson and ambassador for the teaching profession throughout the year.
Along with Mike, finalists in the 2004 Montana Teacher of the Year event are Deborah Flanigan, 4th and 5th grade teacher at Morning Star Elementary in Bozeman, and Paulette Frazer, 6th-8th grade teacher at Hardin Middle School in Hardin.
All three finalists will be honored at a special celebration October 16 during the MEA-MFT Educators' Conference in Billings.
MORE ON ALYSON MIKE:
Number of years as a teacher:
16 (all in Montana - previously taught biology/chemistry/physics at Circle High School and biology/algebra at Shepherd High School)
University of Montana M.S.T. 1988-1992
Montana State University B.S 1980-1985
Previous awards and recognition:
2002 - National Board Certification – Early Adolescent Science
2001 - Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching
2001- Montana Finalist – Presidential Award for Excellence in Math & Science Teaching
2001 - Montana Science Teachers Association Middle School Teacher of the Year
1990 - Inspirational Teacher Award, Montana State University