First-semester chemistry teacher Michael Covey teaching the sohpomore Chemistry class (Photo by Ryan Ho).

Chemistry split between two teachers

Former chemistry teacher Michael Covey is back in the classroom—for a semester, at least.

Covey, known for his work in the garden, taught at Country Day eight years ago and has returned to teach both Chemistry and AP Chemistry.

Covey is an experienced teacher, although teaching was not his first career. He took chemistry in college, then “ignored it because (he) was a geology major.”  He went on to work for an oil company for 15 years.

After retiring, Covey was offered a job at Country Day where his wife, Jackie DeLu, taught seventh-grade life science. Although he had never taught chemistry before, he accepted the offer, saying he could do it if he stayed one week ahead of the kids.

“I was a nervous teacher when I first started,” Covey said. “I hadn’t taught before.  I made several mistakes.  But the students and staff here are very forgiving and helpful. I became a better teacher.”

Covey also started the first AP chemistry class at the school.

After Covey finishes the semester, Robin Altman will take his place.

Altman has a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Ph.D. in physiology. She is currently finishing her postdoctoral work at UC Davis in the cardiovascular medicine division.

Though she majored in biology, she has experience with chemistry, since it is “an integral part of biology” and “so tied to the science (she) practices.”

Altman has substituted at the school before, most notably during the maternity leave of Kellie Whited, high- school biology teacher.

During that time, Altman  taught Biology, AP Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. She has also substituted for French teacher Richard Day, English teacher Jane Bauman and librarian Joanne Melinson.

“People are pretty familiar with (Altman),” Sue Nellis, head of high school, said.

Altman said that after substituting for a while, she “realized (SCDS) was such an amazing environment.”

[pullquote align=”center” speaker=”Robin Altman, chemistry teacher”](Chemistry teacher Michael Covey and I) tend to dovetail in our teaching philosophies[/pullquote]

With the change in teachers will come a change in curriculum as well.

Covey still had all of his materials from his previous class, which “gave (him) a leg up on what (he) had to put together.” However, he had to tweak what he had to fit with the newer textbooks..

Whited said the general chemistry curriculum from last year was not altered in terms of topics to be covered, though naturally the teaching style is different.  However, the AP chemistry curriculum was redesigned to fit the changing AP exam. Now the focus will be on broader topics using inquiry-based labs.

Altman attended a conference this summer to learn more about the new AP exam.

She said that without a list of cookie-cutter instructions, the students will have a chance to design their own experiments.  They will “be more in the driver’s seat.” She said the revamped curriculum will help people grasp chemistry as a whole.

Altman said she is a big fan of the revised AP exam because she is used to thinking in that way.

Whited said the College Board has revised all science curriculums recently. The biology curriculum was revised last year, and the physics curriculum will undergo some changes next year.

“They’re (the College Board) looking at the system and making sure it’s working.” She said the College Board must keep up with technology and make sure their approach is appropriate.

Covey said the students have to approach a problem using what they already know and apply that in a new way to solve a posed problem. The labs will be longer and harder. “The students have to take that extra step,” he said.

Covey and Altman met many times over the summer to go over the curriculum. Nellis said they also discussed their philosophy of science.

“They’re on the same page,” she said.

Altman agrees. “We tend to dovetail in our teaching philosophy.”

This should make the transition between the two teachers easier for the students.

The last two weeks of January, Covey and Altman will be teaching together to ensure the switch is smooth.

Whited said the transition from former chemistry teacher Alan Beamer to Covey has been “seamless.” But adjusting to a new teacher for AP Chemistry after taking general chemistry from a different teacher worries some juniors, including George Cvetich and Melissa Vazquez.

“Honestly, yes, I am pretty nervous,” Cvetich said.  “It is strange to have to switch teachers, especially when the styles are completely different.”

He is also concerned about the switch at the beginning of second semester.

“It takes a while to get used to a teacher’s style,” Cvetich said.

Vazquez said that Covey has had to adjust to what the students learned last year. “We have to adjust as it goes. That comes with having a new teacher.”

Vazquez is a little worried, too.  However, she said, “as long as they communicate hopefully, it will be as smooth as possible.”

But Whited thinks because neither Covey nor Altman was available to take over for the entire year, the school “got the best of both worlds,” Whited said.

Nellis said she doesn’t know yet who will be teaching chemistry next year, but is “sure we will have a great chemistry teacher in place by then.”

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