Teacher Tuesday: MCE’s Sarah Nekola, for the love of science.

May 5, 2020

Sarah Nekola

Teacher Tuesday: MCE’s Sarah Nekola, for the love of science.

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Metalworks. Metalworks is a small, family-run company with facilities located in Ludington and Manistee, manufacturing metal office filing systems. Be sure to show your support by liking the Metalworks Facebook page here.

By Kate Krieger, MCP Staff Writer.

CUSTER – Mason County Eastern teacher Sarah Nekola never had plans to teach science. Instead she had plans of investigating science. Nekola, a 1996 graduate of Ludington High School, found her love for science at a young age and credits her time attending the West Shore Community College’s Math and Science Center for a lot of it.

“Dr. Gordon Brown, who taught at the Math and Science Center inspired me so much,” she said. “Hands down, he was my favorite teacher.”

Nekola attended the center all four years of high school and then went on to attend Western Michigan University where she received a degree in biomedical science in 2000 and her first taste of teaching.

“I started teaching as an undergrad at WMU,” she said. “I was working in the biology department and they needed teaching assistants (TA) for the anatomy lab. At this point in life, I had no plan to enter the educational field. I just loved how the human body works and thought this would be a good opportunity. I graduated in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in biomedical science. The following fall I went to Wayne State University to study forensic investigation. I enjoyed the program, but decided it wasn’t for me. My experience teaching at WMU was a constant in the back of my mind. I really enjoyed it. I finished the year at WSU and enrolled back at WMU in its post-bachelor teaching certification program. During that time, I was a TA for the Biology for the Non-Majors Lab. I graduated from this program in spring 2004.”

Knowing she wanted to be closer to home, Nekola accepted a job teaching at Free Soil Community School right after she graduated.

“That fall, I started at Free Soil Community Schools where I taught science to grades 7 through 12,” she said. “I was only there one year before I started teaching at Holton High School. In the five years I was there, I taught physical science, chemistry, food science, space science, environmental science and physics. I enjoyed my time at Holton but didn’t enjoy the long commute.”

In 2010, she began teaching at Mason County Eastern Schools.

“At MCE, I’ve taught biology, chemistry, physical science, earth science and American sign language. I’ve also had the joy of being the National Honor Society advisor, quiz bowl coach, and robotics mentor (Go Cardinaltronics #6005).”

With 16 years of teaching under her belt, Nekola said she has really enjoyed her decision to enter the educational world and to share her love for science with others.

“I went into teaching because I love science,” she said. “Like, I crazy love science. Teaching is one way to get others to love it, or at the very least, not hate it. If they do hate it, I get it. I hated chemistry. I only have a minor in it because my major required so many courses. Now, chemistry is one of my favorite subjects to teach. Just knowing how the particles around us interact and why they do the things they do is a little mind blowing. Being able to share my excitement for science is the main reason I went into this profession.”

Another reason Nekola loves teaching so much is because of one special week out of the school year.

“My second favorite thing about teaching is Spirit Days,” she said. “They’re a fun way to show unity as a school and a good deviation from the normal. Our Google Meets during remote learning have a different spirit theme each week. Why not lighten the mood during this time?”

Remote learning has been something Nekola and the rest of the teaching world have had to switch over to in the last few months and Nekola said her experience with it has been somewhat difficult because of the lack of interaction with students.

“It’s these relationships that also make remote learning difficult,” she said. “We’re used to seeing our students five days a week and thinking about them the other two. Our opportunity to interact with them now is limited to non-existent. We get to prepare ourselves at the end of the school year to say goodbye and be away from them for a bit. That didn’t happen this year.

“Students, if a teacher asks to see your work, it’s not because they want to torture you with homework. It’s because they want to see you continue to grow as a scholar and know that you are OK. We miss you.”

Those relationships are what make teaching so important to Nekola (and science) and she encourages those wanting to go into education to make that a priority.

“My advice to students going into teaching now is to build those relationships,” she said. “Having a good relationship with your students will make the teaching and learning experience more fun. Being able to bring non-school aspects from your students’ lives into teaching not only makes the lesson more meaningful to them, it also enriches your life. If you’re lucky enough, some of those relationships will turn into lasting friendships. There’s nothing quite like sharing with a former student the sorrow when a loved one dies, the joy of a new baby, or in any number of life’s little moments.”

Nekola returned to college in 2011 to receive a master’s in curriculum, instruction, and assessment from Marygrove College. She said she encourages her students to always better themselves with education, whether in the formal or non-formal sense.

“There are so many things I love about teaching that it’s hard to limit it to a few,” she said. “The main thing I love is getting to know my students and being a part of their lives. This is especially true for those of us that teach at small schools. I have the same students in ninth, 10th, and 11th grades. By 11th grade, everything is very comfortable, yet more down to business. We’ve spent the last two years getting to know each other’s quirks and the routines. I was fortunate this year to also have a group of seniors. Four years with the same kids. It’s been amazing and I’m very thankful for this opportunity. My heart breaks for them during this time knowing all that they’ve worked for and what they’ve looked forward to for so long won’t be as how they dreamt it would be.”

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