Anastasia Kolesnikova '18 interviewed High School Science Teacher Ms. Pegeen Crockett, who taught for nearly 40 years in the United States, Saudi Arabia, and China before coming to TASIS in 2016.
When did you start at TASIS and which classes do you teach?
I started at TASIS in the fall of 2016. I teach ninth grade science, which is chemistry, physics and biology, as well as ninth grade EAL Biology, which I'm developing the curriculum for this year. I also teach higher-level IB Biology to seniors and standard-level IB Biology to juniors.
What else are you involved with at TASIS?
I run an Internal Assessment lab until 18:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help kids set up and run their IAs. I took Italian lessons on Mondays, but I currently do not have the time to do so, and I am also on the Tech Committee, which meets on Wednesday about once a month.
Can you please describe your educational background and career in education prior to coming to TASIS?
I did my BSc at Stephen F. Austin University. I've taken various other college-level courses, but nothing toward a master's or a doctorate. I taught at various public high schools in the US for 20 years and started teaching private school about 18 years ago. I was at a half-French, half-international school in Texas, which was very interesting because it was a public school in the French section and a private school in the international section. It was a nice mix between private and public school kids. We had the French Bac as well as the International Baccalaureate that the students went for, so if they were in the French section, they went for the French Bac. If they were in the international section, they went for the IB, and it was an all-IB school for the international section—there were no students who didn't do IB. Students could also switch, so if they grew up going through the French section, but in 10th grade decided they want to go for the IB, they could switch programs and go into the IB.
I was there for 12 years and became the Science Department Chair. Then I decided I wanted to go overseas for a while. I wanted to improve my skills as a teacher by gaining exposure to other teachers, programs, and cultures. I went off to Saudi Arabia for three years to serve as a department chair. I then decided I wanted to go back into the classroom, so I taught in China for two years and then came to TASIS.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
The kids. But that's what I like most about teaching anywhere. No matter where I've been, I've really enjoyed the students. And I think that's how you stay in a profession for 37 years and still love it.
How is it teaching both a biology course for higher levels and also physics and chemistry, which I assume are not your areas of expertise?
Well, in your college years you end up taking courses in science. While they do give a baseline, science changes every year, doesn't it? And so many of the things I'm teaching right now, they hadn't discovered when I was in school 40 years ago. [Laughs.] And so for me, doing science means I am a constant learner And that's what I like about the sciences—I'm just a lifelong learner. I have websites that send me new science information every day—things that have been discovered, new journals that are out there. I just keep reading and learning, and I add that stuff into my curriculum to try to stay current within my own field. Physics and chemistry may not be my areas of expertise, but at the level I teach it at—the ninth grade—it's fine.
"No matter where I've been, I've really enjoyed the students. And I think that's how you stay in a profession for 37 years and still love it."
For you, is teaching a teaching process or a learning process? In what way?
Oh, teaching is always learning, right? I mean, I am learning from my kids every day. Yesterday I learned from some students how to do something on the computer—I was like, "Yeah! I now know how to do this one!"—and it was because I have these kids that all have different languages on their computers. They have Chinese, Italian—you name it, we have it. The day before there was a girl that was in a help session during the IA time, and she was having problems doing graphs, and she had the new Excel program, but it was all in Russian. [Laughs.] So we figured some things out, she finally got it into English, and then, because it was a new Excel program, we had to find out where the graphing part was. Half the time I'm learning from my students. So I look at teaching as a total learning process and experience.
We're coming to the end of our time. Can you briefly describe your teaching philosophy?
Well, it's changed over the years. It's been 37 years since I started teaching, so my philosophy has changed to the degree that now I see myself more as a "facilitator of information." My desire is to teach students skills that they can have in real life, so the focus is on being able to communicate, do effective research, develop critical thinking skills through analytical thinking, and understand the actual knowledge (especially the difference between knowing and understanding). I want my students to know all of that so that they can make it in whatever career they choose. My focus isn't as much on curriculum as it used to be. It used to be that it was all about the science, the science, the science, but now it is about using the science to promote the critical thinking, the research.
At the lower grades, we actually focus quite a bit on self-management skills to enhance the ability to get the critical thinking, research, and communication skills. So yeah, my philosophy has changed a lot, and because of that change, now when I do grades, especially in ninth grade, I like for students to have a chance to go back and redo something until they feel successful at doing it. It has worked really well this year with ninth grade. They have a chance to go back and redo a quiz, redo a worksheet, redo a PlayPosit—whatever it is—to attain mastery of that particular skill. Then when it comes to the summative assessment, like a test, they score better. I had nine As and six Bs on a recent test, so it was a really good feeling to see that actual philosophy work. If they have redone the assessment and done a better job, I drop the bad score because that's not their level anymore.
Going to China and doing the MYP Program, which is the middle school program for the IB, gave me a different perspective on "levels"—what level a student is at and how he or she is going to get to that next level. It's based on the idea that at the end of the year, you're not averaging grades, you're just looking at where that student is now. So you're not going to count all these terrible grades that they got initially. That's not their level, so why would you mix them into the average? My philosophy and perspective on grades is very different than most other teachers'. I do some averages because I have different formative assessments—quizzes, worksheets, etc.—but once that student has redone something two or three times in a different version, I'll take what level they're at and that's what I put into the mix of the averages. I'm opposed to saying, "Hey, I'm going to punish you for that low grade you got first!" And this approach has been very successful.
Thank you for sparing me some of your time. I really like these interviews because you get to learn more about your teachers. They become real people, you know?
Oh yeah, that they eat and sleep? Well most do—your dorm parents don't! [Laughs.]
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