‘Be yourself’: Biology alumna reflects on first-year teaching fellowship


Biology alumna, Sarah Groenwald, didn’t know she wanted to be a teacher. In fact, she came to CSU as an undergraduate in pre-vet and natural resources management. It was in her Introduction to Biology class that she found her true passion – science education. Now, as a recipient of the Knowles Teaching Fellowship, she is growing as a teacher and learning new ways to teach science to high school students.

Groenwald recounts discovering her passion for science education, saying that her Introduction to Biology class “fed the fire in my heart.” Through other experiences and courses, Groenwald said “[I saw] education in this new way, as a creative endeavor with the power to create change in communities. I began to see how educators and mentors had shaped my life and realized that I wanted to make that same difference in the lives of this generation’s young people.”

To Groenwald, science education gives students critical thinking and decisions making skills that benefit them throughout their lives. “Through studying the world outside of them, they learn to appreciate and protect the earth’s resources and feel a sense of connection to something that doesn’t involve wifi. Through studying the world inside of them, they can better understand themselves and be able to navigate the medical care system as more informed patients”.

After graduating, Groenwald began teaching science at Chinle High School in the Navajo Nation. “I love living so close to Canyon de Chelly and the students are inspiring”.

Feeling overwhelmed her first year as a teacher, Groenwald sought out professional development and found the Knowles teaching fellowship. Having a community of new teachers gave Groenwald the support she needed to face her first few years as a teacher.

She was excited by Knowles’s focus on helping teachers to become change-making leaders in STEM education. “It was exactly the kind of inspiration I needed as I fumbled through my first year”.

The Knowles Teaching Initiative selects a cohort of 35 first- or second-year teachers for their fellows’ program. The Teaching Fellows Program assists in the development of teachers through practitioner inquiry, community building, financial support, mentoring, and coaching.

Groenwald believes the fellowship is supporting her in building longevity as an educator and making the leap to inquiry-based science teaching. “So many teachers drop out in their first few years of teaching. I thought about it,” said Groenwald, “But having all these people who are going through similar struggles really makes me feel less alone and helps me come up with ways to keep teaching as a sustainable career”.

To future educators, Groenwald advises “make as many connections as you can now. You have to have 180ish days worth of lesson plans to make it through a school year! Share, beg, and borrow what you can”.

She implores teachers to never work in isolation and to seek out colleagues who will help them grow as a person and as an educator. “And find those students, too. The ones who remind you that you make a difference”.

To future Knowles Teaching Fellowship applicants, Groenwald says “don’t be intimidated! Their selection process is about finding people with the greatest potential to become great teachers and great leaders in education. Be yourself”