“Students either love me or they hate me. There is no in between.”
Megan Shaw is a Math and Science teacher at Bethel Regional High School. She is mentor to 2015 Gates Scholarship Finalist Danika Bailie, and attended the Spring 2013 Talk Story, Write Story workshop in Bethel.
2015 Reflection on Gates Scholarship Application Experience
Helping my student complete the Gates Millennium Scholarship application was one of the most rewarding, frustrating, stressful, wonderful, emotional, time consuming and gratifying things that I have done as an educator. I would do it again in a heartbeat for one of my students.
I started this year hoping to get three of my seniors to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship. One student didn’t meet the GPA requirement. I lost another student to the demands of life in bush Alaska, later in the process. Only one of my students completed the application.
Going all the way through the development of these essays with Danika Bailie was quite the marathon. I often felt I as though I was playing two roles: therapist and editor. I felt I was a therapist because of all the emotions, both hers and mine, which came up as the essays were being pounded out. I knew many of her struggles already. However, reading them in her own voice, told in a completely accepting manner as though they were normal, was heart wrenching. Reading her drafts, I would find myself holding back tears and hoping no one would stop by my room. It’s hard to hear about your students’ struggles; it’s harder to encourage them to poke at those wounds and write about it in more detail, to use better adjectives, to hold nothing back. Some days I merely acted as guide and sounding board for everyday life, some days I was pushing her to explain how something really made her feel when she’d probably rather have pushed the memory away. The process was emotional but I believe that overall, it was healing for Danika.
My other role was as an editor. While this was “easier,” it took me awhile to hone in on what I needed to edit. At first, I was focused on grammatical errors and overall flow of Danika’s essays. It wasn’t until Tad said something to me that I realized those weren’t where my attention should be focused. I need to be looking at a big picture view of Danika’s work. This didn’t come naturally to me: I am a detail person. But once it was pointed out, it became much clearer where I needed to concentrate.
I offered my time and assistance with the GMS application for Danika. She’s an incredible young woman that I know will go far in life even if she doesn’t win the Gates. I firmly believe she deserves it but I know she has the drive to find a way to reach her goals no matter what hurdles are placed in front of her. There were times when I worried that life would get in the way of her completing the application, but every time she rose above and continued to impress me.
I don’t have words to describe how proud of Danika I am. She did this herself. My role feels small and secondary compared to the burden she overcame. I’m sure this experience will be something she can draw on for the rest of her life. I look forward to seeing what she does with her future; I’m sure it will be incredible.
Would I do this again? Absolutely. I’d do this for any of my students; they all have amazing stories that deserve to be told and dreams they want to achieve. They all deserve an adult to care and advocate for them. If this is the way that I can accomplish that, then I will.
2014 Essay: WHY I TEACH
My mother was an art teacher. She was incredible. She loved children and was fanatical about art. She’d fill the washing machine with tie-dye so we could make shirts in the middle of winter. She created Native beadwork, waxed and dyed pysanka eggs, threw bowls, made every one of my Halloween costumes. And through it all, she was happy to have me, my brothers, our friends and neighborhood kids at her side. While I didn’t realize it, she influenced me to become a teacher.
My love of science stemmed from my upbringing. I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We owned about 20 acres in a very rural community, with more dairy cows than people. I spent my winters ice skating on the pond in the yard or making snow caves under the pine trees. My summers were spent exploring the woods, climbing trees and growing frog eggs in a habitat my mother and I would build. I learned to horseback ride at 8 and was never happier then when I was in the saddle, unless I happened to be in the water. We cooked together, put good grades on the fridge and framed our artwork to hang on the wall. We hunted for deer, saved stray cats, helped bale hay on friends’ farms. We swam in Lake Michigan, camped on Lake Superior and took many photos. I would marvel at the differences in trees’ needles, identify birds, swim in any body of water large enough to fit me, all with my parents’ encouragement.
I studied at Michigan Technological University and have 2 degrees. My BS is in Biology and Education. It is there that my love of nature became my passion. I wanted a background of education because my goal was to one day be a public outreach director of a state forest or for a university. Little did I know how much I’d fall in love with teaching. The awe I felt, growing frog eggs into tadpoles, became something I wanted to pass on. I felt (and still feel) that the best way to do this was in the classroom.
My MS is in Forest Ecology. This degree left me with even more of a drive to protect our environment. That jives perfectly with teaching science! If I can instill an amazement and respect for our world in kids, they will want to save it too!