By Sue Moore
Science teaching is Mary Burke’s specialty in the Vicksburg Middle School. She was recently honored for her work by the faculty of Western Michigan University’s (WMU) Mallinson Institute for Science Education, as its 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
The Institute is devoted to the study and improvement of how people teach and learn science and in its award ceremony in October, had this to say about Burke’s achievements: “At heart, Mary is a true science teacher who is well acquainted with both the challenges and rewards that come with teaching middle school science. She has learned over the years how to quickly assess her students’ needs and how to individually help them successfully accomplish the tasks of learning science. Mary is admired, loved and highly respected by all amongst her friends and colleagues at WMU.”
The courses and workshops for teachers of science in the Mallinson Institute are designed to help prepare them to think critically about why people should become scientifically literate, what science is most important to know, and how their students learn. Burke has put this practice to good use in her teaching.
Burke has served WMU after receiving her undergrad degree from Central Michigan University and her master’s degree in science from WMU, as ‘teacher in residence’ to promote middle school science teacher education. In her 17 years at Vicksburg Middle School, she has taught over 2,000 science students, who have left to become nurses, doctors, engineers and teachers, of which she is justifiably proud.
Burke is passionate about teaching science and as an instructor of a WMU science methods course, believes it has made her a better teacher; but more importantly, she hopes to be creating great science teachers for the future that will in turn instill the love of science in their students. I love the challenges and possibilities that are in front of me every day, as I face 140 seventh graders by trying to help students own their mistakes and learn from them. I constantly think of what I need to do instructionally to help them grasp the concepts, how do I help them learn how to help themselves. My classroom is a living lab for analyzing my students, analyzing my instruction and my approach to the content. Quick decisions are required to address these needs and when I am done, I reflect once again on what I could have done differently and what I could do to improve my students’ understanding.
“My administrators have been more than bosses, they have been my cheerleaders. They have pushed me to achieve and to lead others to achieve. They have believed in me to let me try new things, make changes where I believed they needed to be made for the betterment of our district, building, my classroom or course content,” she said. At the same time the amazing people at VCS and WMU she has worked with over the years have also contributed to her personal growth as a teacher, she said.
Science was in Burke’s early training as she literally grew up in a veterinary clinic with her parents Drs. Don Lohman and Carol Neal Lohman, as her instructors in the Portage Animal Hospital and at home around the dinner table. Her mother was near tears as she sat listening to the accolades heaped on Burke during the Vicksburg School Board meeting in October, having served in this capacity for the last 29 years and watching over the evolution of the science programs throughout the district.