Noyce Scholars
Jennifer McDonald

Jennifer McDonald headshot

M.T., secondary science

Undergraduate major

Current subject area and level of teaching
Life sciences, grade 8 and biology, grade 10

Where are you currently teaching?
Varina High School in Henrico County, Va.

I spent my first four years of college avoiding math and science, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 2006. I spent several years working after graduation, most notably as a resume translator for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Richmond area, and later as a preschool teacher for the VCU Child Development Center. During those years, I got really into reading popular science books and just fell in love with science. I returned to VCU in 2011 and earned my bachelor’s in biology. During that time, I had several laboratory experiences and considered going into academic research. I missed teaching, however, and slowly realized that being a science teacher was my dream job.

Why do you want to teach?
I want to teach for several reasons. First, I love working with young people. I love their general tenacity and enthusiasm. As a high school student, I never believed I could succeed in math or science. I can’t wait to make science fun and accessible for students and to prove to them that they are capable of more than they might think. I also love the science of learning itself — it is incredibly complex and fascinating. I love learning all there is to know about biology and I find it entirely enjoyable working to get others to love it too! Compiling resources and piecing together lesson plans is a creative process that I enjoy. I know this career will never fail to be challenging, rewarding and surprising. I can’t wait to get started!

Please tell us about a memorable teaching experience and why it stands out in your mind.
One of my most memorable teaching experiences is from my time at John Rolfe Middle School in Henrico County. I taught a lesson on atomic theory and the states of matter. I knew I wanted to get the students up and moving, so we cleared the desks from the middle of the classroom. The students acted out how atoms behave in the different states of matter. On my command, students went from being huddled as a solid to running around bumping into one another as a gas. When the time came to demonstrate plasma, they were running around and laughing wildly. It was a bit chaotic, but the students were left with a vivid image in their heads of how atoms behave in different states, and we had a lot of fun in the process.

What has the Noyce program meant to you?
Entering into the Noyce program has really forced me to think hard on the state of public education. It’s no secret that the current system has certain populations at a severe disadvantage. While I know this is an incredibly large and intricate problem, I see now that the need for motivated, highly-qualified teachers in high-needs school districts is something I can help fulfill. I can commit myself to work hard for and stick with a group of students that need the best teachers they can get. Maybe then, I can succeed in giving them the experience in school that they deserve and to do my part in making public education more equitable, even in the smallest way.