Hudson High School science teacher gets Nobel award of her ownTeachers can’t always be sure of the impact they have on students but Hudson High School science teacher Vickie McLaughlin got a pretty good indication from one of hers. McLaughlin has been named a 2012 Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Teachers can’t always be sure of the impact they have on students but Hudson High School science teacher Vickie McLaughlin got a pretty good indication from one of hers.
McLaughlin has been named a 2012 Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars, and yes, it was founded by a member of Nobel family famous for its awards to scientists, authors, statesmen and philosophers. She was nominated for the award by one of her former students, Ryan Mitchell, who was named a NSHSS scholar in 2011 and was last year’s HHS valedictorian. He now attends the University of California in Berkeley.
McLaughlin said she was surprised to receive both the nomination and the award. She said it is enough for her to know that students like Mitchell are taking their education to the next level.
McLaughlin teaches advanced placement physics and chemistry and enriched physics. While she always enjoyed science, she didn’t see herself as a teacher. “I was pretty shy and saw myself working in a lab doing research. But I did some tutoring and really enjoyed it and after moving here from Indiana decided to get my teaching license.” She has been a teacher at HHS for six years.
McLaughlin says that even on her worst day she looks forward to coming to work, primarily because of her students. “They are such great kids — smart, funny and always there to keep me on my toes.” She says the rigor of the curriculum she teaches can be stressful but she sees it as a challenge.
“I learn some new teaching idea every year from every group of students. These kids are so flexible that it is OK to try something new occasionally to see if it works better or makes things clearer.”
Over the past several years, McLaughlin has seen the size of her classes increase from an optimal 15 students to as many as 27 in her enriched physics course. She has one of the bigger science classrooms in the school but space is limited with that many students. She said students do well when working in pairs of two but said larger classes have required larger groups, something she says leads to less engagement by some of the students.
The science department shares 15 computers among 12 science teachers and limited equipment, software and lab space. McLaughlin noted that enrollment in next year’s advanced placement and enriched classes will be up. To accommodate the students, she says the schedule can get complicated as the teacher try to make what equipment they have work.
McLaughlin says she is pleased to see more of a gender balance in her classes, something she didn’t always experience when she was in high school. “I was always interested in science, and I wouldn’t say I was discouraged from taking classes but I wasn’t encouraged either. But that just made me want to do it more.”
Today she sees more females in her classes and has one former female student attending MIT. “I think girls worried about whether they could get the kind of grade they wanted in an AP or enriched science class. But more and more they are willing to give it a try. That’s a victory.”
As important to McLaughlin as the science she teaches, are the character lessons she hopes to impart to her students.
“Students can hit a brick wall sometimes and how you get over it kind of defines your character. That’s something we all face throughout our lives and I think learning that in high school gives them an edge,” said McLaughlin. “Sometimes they struggle to learn something but when they get it, you can almost see the light bulb go on and when that happens it is so neat.”
While McLaughlin describes herself as a “closet nerd,” she has multiple, non-scientific interests including tennis, basketball and softball as well as military history and German. She is also a wife and a mother. “I like to think I’m pretty well rounded and it sometimes surprises kids to learn that I care so much about other things.”
McLaughlin’s award was recognized at the May Board of Education meeting.