NSHSS Educator of the Year: Eric Thiel Q&A

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Teach Letters

Eric Thiel, Amador Valley High School Pleasanton, CA 

What inspired you to become a teacher?

My high school Biology teacher was primarily responsible for me becoming an educator. His passion for the subject of biology was evident in every class period. He established an ecotourism company that was focused on educating people about endangered species and the importance of protecting habitat. His amazing stories accompanied by extensive knowledge of Biology excited me about the subject matter and inspired me to pursue a teaching career.

What is your happiest memory from your entire teaching career?

Receiving emails from students expressing their appreciation for the manner in which I prepared them for college offers a continuous source of gratification and support for the belief that I have made a difference in the lives of others. Knowing that I have helped kids reach their goals is extremely rewarding and provides me with a sense of fulfillment.

On another note, when my first wife passed away as a result of her 9 year battle with cancer there was a huge outpouring of well wishes and emotional support from my current students and ex students as well. Their concern for me and my family revealed a level of appreciation that was extremely moving, greatly appreciated, and softened the impact of this life changing event.

What is your happiest memory from last year?

One of my students (Catherine Tu who attended this years NSHSS scholarship trip to the Nobel Awards in Stockholm Sweden) was so appreciative of the numerous letters of recommendation I had written for summer internships and the guidance I had provided regarding her academic endeavors that she covertly painted a picture of me and my 2.5 year old son. Under the guise of needing to create a portrait as part of her AP Art Portfolio, she borrowed a small 3.5 x 5 framed picture I had on my desk. On the last day of the school year she presented me with a 24 x 20 pastel painting. The likeness of the two of us was extraordinary. We were portrayed as Super Heroes (me as Superman and Noah as Robin). The canvas was beautifully framed and now hangs in a prestigious location in my home.

What do you love about being a high school educator?

Exploring a variety of resources that may promote my students fascination with the subject of Biology has led to the advancement of my knowledge of the subject and extended my ability to motivate those in my classroom. Seeing students leave my class with a heightened interest in limiting their impact on the environment and a desire to make better choices regarding their own health gives me a sense of purpose that goes well beyond the presentation of content.

What is the biggest challenge of being an educator?

Large class sizes (32 or more students) and acquiring the optimal resources that would enable students to effectively explore the living condition have been an ongoing challenge. The time and energy needed to address these two issues compromises my ability to address individual student needs and opportunities that would otherwise support the development of new innovative lesson plans.

If you can give one piece of advice to incoming teachers, what would it be?

Have a desire to incorporate a variety of ways of presenting content. Don’t rely on one or two methodologies, this can lead to monotony and a loss of student focus. Be OK when something does not work, good teachers evolve as a result of trial and error. You don’t need to know answers to all their questions but should know how to effectively direct students in a way that may lead to advancement in knowledge about the topic. Having a sense of humor can be essential if you are to maintain your sanity.

If there is one thing you wish you have in the classroom that you don’t today, what would it be?

Assuming smaller class sizes and expensive equipment like an electron microscope are off the table, a class set of iPads or tablets would be terrific.

What is your greatest wish for your students?

I want my students to be fascinated by the subject of Biology and walk away from the class with a heightened interest in protecting habitat and cherishing good health.

How has NSHSS impacted your career as an educator?

Being recognized as an NSHSS educator of distinction has offered additional validation that my efforts as a teacher are appreciated, deserve special recognition, and are exemplary. Organizations like NSHSS fill a significant void that public education is unable to accommodate as a result of insufficient funding. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.

What do you see as the biggest benefit of an NSHSS membership for your students?

NSHSS offers student members numerous opportunities to grow academically, to increase their probability of gaining access to prestigious universities, and establish contacts that may lead to very promising careers. It is sort of a High School Equivalent of “LinkedIn”.