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Eastern Professor Named President-Elect of National Association of Biology Teachers

Published on January 03, 2017

Eastern Professor Named President-Elect of National Association of Biology Teachers

Elizabeth Cowles, biology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, is the new president-elect of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) as of Jan. 1, 2017. Comprised of 3,500 members, the NABT is the nation’s premier organization dedicated to supporting life-science teacher development. Cowles will transition to president after one year, and conclude her three-year term on Dec. 31, 2019.

Whereas most scientific organizations are discipline-specific and focused on research, according to Cowles, “The NABT is all about teaching. It’s an organization where the craft of teaching is really celebrated.” She continued, “The NABT bridges gaps”—the gap in organizations dedicated to the teaching of science; the gap in funding for teacher development; and the gap between raw scientific information and the methods of teaching it.

Cowles became involved with the NABT 20 years ago. As a new professor at Eastern in 1997, she recognized her need for support. “I needed lesson plans, ideas, resources and most importantly, a caring community to help me during my first few years,” she said. “The most critical years of any teacher’s career are those first five. A lot of teachers quit because of all the demands placed upon them.”

Demands that can overwhelm a young teacher include the time commitments of teaching, advising and mentoring students, maintaining labs and research programs—writing grants for funding, planning experiments and analyzing results—and of course, grading students’ work.

Cowles has been immensely involved with the NABT, from serving most recently as director-at-large on the executive board; to her eight-year tenure as book review editor for the association’s magazine, American Biology Teacher; to being an original member of the NABT local branch in Connecticut.

She is also the chair of the Biology Department at Eastern. “For us at Eastern, teaching is the number one criteria used to evaluate a professor,” said Cowles, compared to other universities where research may be a professor’s primary focus. “Teaching is a craft. It should be celebrated.” She added that in order to be a good teacher, one must “have passion for the subject and a willingness to change one’s teaching each time the course is taught.”

“Keeping up with biology is extremely hard; every day there’s new research and discovery being made, so the curriculum we teach and the way we teach it is constantly changing,” said Cowles.

The NABT supports teacher development in a variety of ways. During its annual conference and regional workshops, thousands of teachers gather to learn best practices and network. The association’s magazine is another resource, published monthly with feature stories written by NABT members and offering a variety of teacher insight.

The association’s Facebook page is another asset, with nearly 4,000 members engaged in an ongoing, open conversation. “Teachers don’t feel afraid to ask questions to the group,” said Cowles. “If a teacher runs into a problem, it’s a way for folks from all over to offer assistance. We’re really a team. The teaching community is critical in making sure our teachers are successful.”

There are approximately 3,500 current members, according to Cowles. About half of the teachers come from high schools, followed by community colleges and four-year universities, with the remainder coming from middle schools.

As for what Cowles hopes to achieve during her presidency: “We’re going through a growth phase. We’re a very strong group. I’m focused on making sure teachers know who we are, and understand the value of being a member.”

Written by Michael Rouleau