Donald Clark, Long Branch High School, Biology and AP Biology

I am a 2009 Presidential Award winner, the highest award you can get for science in the country. President Obama actually met with our whole group and shook our hands. I actually had 5 seconds with President Obama. Every year I make a big deal out of it with my new students and show them the photo, and I tell them about the experience, but then I make sure they know that I am down to earth.

Part of the reason I won the award: I had to write a huge paper and explain my philosophy of teaching and send a 30 minute unedited video of me in the classroom just teaching. I bring my own life experiences into the classroom, like when I hiked to the top of a mountain, or went scuba diving. I share those experiences to the students in a way to explain science to them. I make it very personal, and some of the kids get inspired by that.

When I was young I was very into science and doing things on my own, but socially I was an outcast. Everyone is aware of bullying and that kind of thing, and all through my school years, because I didn’t conform, I wasn’t a part of the in-crowds. I would find pockets of friends, but overall I would be left feeling marginalized, left out, and getting beat up by the bullies. In high school, I didn’t use the bathrooms. If you went in them, you would get your head dunked in the toilet. I lived that. Now I am with high school students all the time, and because of what I went through in high school, I can as a teacher spot to when a student is being bullied. I don’t always catch it, but if I see anyone being pressured, I jump right in there.

It was in college that I really found my comfort zone and left behind feeling outcast. When I got to college, I reached out to people and made new friends. So I went from someone being in the corner in social settings in high school, to someone who went around and found the people in the corners and befriended them. Now I will go to a new setting, and I am the greeter, even if it’s not my own party! And I do the same with my own students, and make sure they feel a part of our classroom.

  • Interview by Gregory Andrus

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