MCLA

Alumna leads state's science teachers

10/30/2013

Growing up on a dairy farm in Buckland, Mass., Betsey Clifford '06 spent a considerable amount of time outside, where she learned about the complexity of the environment around her. Even then, she knew she wanted to be a teacher.

Now, as the President of the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers (MAST), she not only supports science teachers throughout the state, she looks at new ways to support science education.

"I fell in love with ecology toward the end of high school. I really enjoyed my AP environmental science class and my ecology class. It seemed relevant and very important," she said.

Clifford, who majored in elementary education and environmental studies with a biology minor, said science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are important to young students because of their relevance in many careers, and because "Science is the foundation of problem-solving and answering questions."

In her capacity as president of MAST, Clifford is working to provide answers to the teachers who belong to this organization through a new website she recently created, www.MassScienceTeach.org. She also hopes to expand professional development opportunities for science teachers.

A teacher of general science in middle schools since her graduation from MCLA, Clifford originally intended to teach the first grade, which she had taught as a student teacher. However, the demand for positions in elementary schools was high, so she decided to accept a position as a seventh-grade science teacher, instead.

"I have really enjoyed teaching middle school science ever since," she said.

"The middle school level can be challenging and many who do not teach it cannot imagine it. It is a tough age for students as they're really starting to figure out who they are as a person. I like middle school because kids are still excited to come to school and they love activities and labs. At the same time, they are old enough to have real conversations with, and get into some higher level content."

At South Middle School in Braintree, Mass., Clifford uses a variety of innovative teaching techniques to interest and connect with her students.

"We read, write, do hands-on labs, have demonstrations, watch video clips, create models, do projects, act out skits, and more," she explained. "It is important to keep the students engaged and having a variety of instructional methods helps with that." 

Her favorite part of being a science teacher is the hands-on component.

"Kids get so excited when they come into the classroom and see materials on the lab tables. It makes them feel like a scientist," Clifford said. 

Her experience at MCLA proved to be a great asset to her career.

"I had a lot of great professors at MCLA who helped me develop the skills necessary to be an effective teacher," Clifford said. "I was at an advantage because we got into the classroom early in our program. I had friends at other schools who did not get into the classroom at all until much later. This gave me more exposure to other teachers.

"When I was at MCLA, I was inspired to learn, and now, teach science by the dedicated professors. These professors go above and beyond to facilitate meaningful labs and give students real-world experiences. I gained content and skills in each of my courses," she continued. "I imagine this has even improved with new facilities and resources. ... It is exciting to hear how much MCLA's science programs and facilities have grown since I graduated in 2006."

According to Clifford, "MCLA is a great school with a variety of programs. It has everything you need to pursue a career in science and also has a great education program. I would definitely recommend MCLA to high school students. It is a great size for learning and getting involved, and the price is reasonable."