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A Middle School Science Teacher's VISTA Experience

A Middle School Science Teacher's VISTA Experience

My name is Nick Swan, and I am a VISTA success story! Let me tell you how VISTA’s two-year professional development program helped me excel as a new middle school science teacher.

I received my initial licensure to teach social studies and language arts back in 2012. Even though I had obtained my master's degree, there were a lot of "holes" in my teacher training, and finding a job initially proved difficult.

And then, just like that, I got an offer - to be a science teacher in Hampton City Schools! Because I was a new science teacher, as soon as I heard about the VISTA program I jumped at the chance to attend – not only for the specialized training, but also for the extra money and classroom supplies.

During my first week in the classroom (before VISTA’s professional development began) I “made do” by relying on memories of science classes that I had participated in long ago. This wasn’t the best strategy, and I was quickly exhausting my limited tool box.

All of this changed on my first day of VISTA. VISTA staff Dr. Manarino and Dr. Matkins started the Secondary Teaching Program off with a bang, quickly sharing their vision of engaging, hands-on science instruction with myself and the other new teacher participants in my cohort. The program sessions that followed highlighted lab safety, technology integration (my favorite!) and classroom management. 

In November of 2012, VISTA sponsored all of the Secondary Teaching Program participants’ attendance at the esteemed Virginia Association of Science Teaching (VAST) conference in Williamsburg. If you've never gotten to attend VAST, there’s little I can do to explain what it’s like except to draw comparisons to sports car racing or roller coaster riding – it’s that sort of dizzying, non-stop exhilarating rush!

My second year participating in VISTA’s Secondary Teaching Program was much like the first: eye-opening, enlightening and very helpful. Speaking of very helpful, a large contributor to my success was the 1-on-1 teaching coach, Mrs. Curtis, that VISTA provided me with. She was my mentor and saving grace for two very tumultuous years working in an urban school with high levels of employee turnover. Mrs. Curtis was always available in person or by phone to assist me in planning lessons and in managing my classroom. She also helped bring much needed “pop” to my science lessons.

Towards the end of my second year in the program, VISTA again sponsored my attendance to the annual VAST conference. This time, however, I enjoyed the added thrill of presenting a final VISTA-inspired class project to the conference participants. This amped-up what was an already stimulating conference event – I would compare that second year to Formula One racing in Monaco or skin diving with tiger sharks in Belize!

My experience with VISTA has been rewarding in more-tangible ways as well. Thanks to the techniques and strategies I learned during my first year in the Secondary Teaching Program, I was recognized by my district's school board (right alongside the "Teachers of the Year") for employing outstanding creative instruction. At the end of my second year teaching, I was a recipient of a $9,000 STEM-teacher retention grant from the Virginia Department of Education and was appointed to the leadership committee of my school!

VISTA is absolutely worth your time and effort. It will craft you into an awesome science teacher, and it will endow you with a lasting vision for how to run and manage your classroom. It will likely springboard your career. It is a truly unique experience unlike any other professional development opportunity out there.

By the way, I wrote this testimony on one of the iPads furnished to me by the VISTA grant for use in my classroom. 

If you, like Nick, are a new middle or high school science teacher interested in joining VISTA's free professional development program, apply soon (the deadline is August 22). Find out more

Comments (2)

  1. Kristen Honeycutt:
    Dec 29, 2014 at 07:14 PM

    Do you have any programs for elementary science teachers?

  2. VISTA:
    Jan 07, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    Hi Kristen,

    Yes we do - our Elementary Science Institute is for 4th-6th grade science teachers. Learn more here:

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