Written by Kristin Rearden, clinical professor of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) / science education
Michael Hartman (’06, 09) is one of many former University of Tennessee, Knoxville teaching interns who now gives back to the profession by serving as a mentor to future teachers. His career path shows the impact that one teacher can make on a student, even if that impact takes years to manifest. He credits his choice for a career in secondary science teaching in part to one of his own high school science teachers, Lauren Harper-Lott. Hartman noted that Harper-Lott, a 2017-18 SCORE Teacher Educator Fellow, clearly had passion for her subject and for her students. “She really inspired me to be interested in science and the natural curiosity that science brings to the world,” stated Hartman. A second source of inspiration for his teaching career came from his work as a camp counselor for the Boy Scouts of America which confirmed for him that he had an innate ability to teach. While earning his undergraduate degree in both biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at UTK, Hartman decided to blend his dual interests in science and teaching, and pursue a career about which he could be truly passionate.
Hartman looked back on his time as teacher candidate with great enthusiasm and appreciation. “Without a doubt, my best experience was my internship at Hardin Valley Academy (HVA),” noted Hartman. “I had three amazing mentors, and I would not be the teacher I am today without that experience.” He had the unique opportunity of being placed at a school opening its doors for the first time during his internship. This resulted in some unforeseen challenges, such as starting the year without any science equipment. “We were told over and over that the equipment was coming. I learned a great deal about how to make science happen with nothing!” Hartman recalled. He also commented on the impact of a summer course he took with Claudia Melear, associate professor of science education, where they spent a week engaging in authentic science learning experiences on Skidaway Island. “It was an amazing time to be able to see how you can teach in the natural setting,” he stated.
Since completing his internship at HVA, Hartman has accumulated eleven more years of teaching experience there. He has taught students from 9th through 12th grades in physical world concepts, biology, and chemistry. In addition to serving as a mentor for four year-long UT interns, he has also mentored student teachers from the VolsTeach program and interns from other teacher licensure programs. In reflecting on his experiences as a mentor, Hartman highlighted the benefits to both the mentor and mentee. “Being a mentor allows you to improve your own teaching. Having to teach someone how to teach makes you take a deeper look at effective practices,” he noted. One lesson he has learned over time is that teacher candidates are working on finding their own style and will struggle along the way. “They are not a mini version of you. It’s hard sometimes to watch them struggle and not do something the way you would do it, but it will give you the chance to learn too.”
With his twelve years of teaching experience, Hartman has seen many changes in education. He considers the adoption of the new Tennessee Academic Standards in Science to be one of the most positive changes during that time. “I have always believed that science is a verb, and students should be engaged and practicing science in the classroom,” he reflected. “Now with the three dimensional aspects of the standards, students are active participants in their own learning.” Hartman’s impact on science education both locally and statewide are apparent. He has served as HVA’s science department chair since 2014, and was recognized as HVA’s Teacher of the Year in 2015. Additionally, he has contributed to the state’s revisions of science academic standards, including being part of the team that wrote standards for physical science and a reviewer for the TN Ready test in biology. His career in education truly exemplifies how one teacher can make a significant impact, and how giving back to the profession through mentoring makes the teaching profession even stronger