Noyce Scholars
Molly McMahan

Molly McMahan headshot

M.T., secondary science

Undergraduate major

Current subject area and level of teaching
Chemistry, grades 10-12

Where are you currently teaching?
Richmond Community High School, Richmond, Va.

I grew up in a family that moved around frequently when I was in school, and settled in Virginia when I came to The College of William & Mary to complete my undergraduate degree in chemistry. Throughout my time in college, I was able to spend a total of seven months working at a children’s shelter in rural Mexico, where I worked as a teacher for elementary-age students with learning and behavioral impairments. Immediately following graduation from William & Mary, I moved to Richmond to begin the Richmond Teacher Residency program, which provides me with a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a long-term residency position in a Richmond high school, working alongside a coach teacher.

Why do you want to teach?
I want to teach because I love it, and I believe in my students! I believe that education is empowerment, and I see how I have been empowered by my education. I am particularly interested in teaching science because many students have pervasive preconceived notions that science is too difficult, too complex or even too boring for it to be worth their time. I think that showing a student they can understand concepts they once thought were too difficult for them has the potential to empower them, increase their self-worth and prepare them to be citizens of global society.

Please tell us about a memorable teaching experience and why it stands out in your mind.
When I was in Mexico, I was teaching a 10-year-old boy who was essentially nonverbal. I had been working with him for a few months, and he had started to progress to the point that he could pronounce many of the letters in the Spanish alphabet and was able to produce some basic vowel sounds. We worked up to reading short, two-syllable words in Spanish. One of the words that he learned was “pulpo,” meaning “octopus.” The ability to say this particular word unlocked doors for him; his father had run a business selling octopus, and now the boy had a word to say to refer to that experience. This story is much different from many of my experiences in a secondary science classroom, but it stands out in my mind as the time when I most clearly saw the power of learning to unlock doors of understanding for students.

What has the Noyce program meant to you?
The Noyce program offers me financial and professional support as I start out as a science teacher in an urban district. Having financial support from Noyce helps me focus on my teaching preparation and studies without having to worry as much about finances.

In addition, the professional support from Noyce is shaping my teaching practice and providing me with opportunities to share ideas with my peers about lessons, management strategies, and philosophies of effective science teaching. I also know that when I start my first year of full-time teaching, I will not be “on my own” because I will continue to be supported professionally by the Noyce program.