Sometimes, the teacher learns
Leave it to a group of middle school students to surprise the teacher.
“There’s a story for every day of the week,” says Andrew Holz ES ’04.
Holz teaches general science to seventh- and eighth-graders at Queens Valley School of the Arts, also known as PS/MS 164, in the New York City public school system.
“A few years back, I took my kids to the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn. A few of my kids had never been outside Queens,” he recalled. “Brooklyn is not that far. And these kids, to their knowledge, had not been outside the borough of Queens in their lifetime. It was a shock to me in some sense.”
But the students were undaunted by their new surroundings and fascinated by what the aquarium staff told them about caring for the animals.
“I expected them to just roam around and go back and forth, but they just listened to the trainer,” Holz said.
When they got back to school, the students told Holz what they had learned.
“They were able to give a full explanation of the needs of the animals,” Holz said. “They gave field observations that were similar to field observations I did at SUNY-ESF. It was a good day.”
Holz, who also teaches an accelerated earth science class to eighth-graders at the school, relies on field trips and hands-on techniques to hold his students’ attention. “That’s what keeps them interested,” he said. “If I went the boring lecture route, I would lose them. I would lose myself.”
Holz didn’t plan to be a teacher. He came to ESF as an undergraduate intending to be a field biologist. But he gravitated toward environmental communication and journalism, and became involved in ESF outreach programs.
During the summers, he taught environmental programs to Syracuse children at Lincoln Middle School and Roberts School. During the school year, he worked with students from around Central New York in the ESF Environmental Challenge Science Fair.
“I found it to be rewarding instantaneously,” Holz said. A native of Queens, he decided to enter the New York City teaching fellows program. “They just throw you in and see if you can survive,” he recalled.
He survived, and thrived. He earned his master’s degree from Queens College, a part of The City University of New York, while teaching at Queens Valley, which houses students in kindergarten through eighth grade. And he decided to stay at Queens Valley, where he teaches 125 students in five classes.
“I just like the feel of giving back to my community,” Holz said. “I grew up in a public school not too far from where I’m teaching. I like the city school system. There’s something about it that is always entertaining and surprising.
“It’s a fast-paced environment. There’s a lot to offer in the city. We have a partnership with the museums, so the kids can look at the exhibits, or go to the zoo or the town gardens. That really allows my kids to get a feel for some of the other areas they wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise.”
Holz said he strives to give his students a well-rounded education, and he’s grateful to ESF, where he was active in the student association and several groups and publications, for emphasizing the importance of that.
He also wants to make sure each student can learn at his or her own pace. “The hands-on route helps with students who are different types of learners,” he said. “It allows them all to absorb the material at their own rate.”
“Teaching is a challenging job,” Holz said. “It’s nonstop. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. It’s a great career.”
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