For nearly a year, Pulaski High School science teacher Jamie Hefti has been a member of a prestigious group of New York state educators dedicated to sharing ideas and experiences to better science, technology, engineering and math instruction.
In April 2014, Hefti was accepted into the New York State Master Teacher Program, a collection of the highest-performing STEM teachers throughout the state.
The program, which was launched by the state in 2013 in an effort to strengthen STEM education throughout the nation, works in connection with The State University of New York and Math for America.
“Basically it’s a professional development organization, separate from the school day,” Hefti explained. “It never overlaps with my regular teaching. It’s in the evenings, weekends and summer time.”
Along with more than 70 other Master Teachers in central New York, Hefti is engaged in projects to advance STEM instructional ideas.
Those 70-plus educators are then broken into subgroups based on their area of expertise.
“This Master Teacher program didn’t have a blueprint when it began, so it was us just kind of figuring it out as we go,” Hefti said. “But when you get highly motivated people together, something good is bound to happen. And it’s getting there now.”
According to Hefti, the hardest part of being a master teacher may have been gaining acceptance into the program, as he described the application process as being both competitive and challenging.
“After my admissions test, I had to give a 10-minute presentation on something that is interesting to you but that you don’t teach about,” Hefti said. “So I spent 10 hours preparing for a 10-minute presentation.”
Hefti also had to produce a writing sample in less than an hour, took the equivalent of a graduate school admissions exam in his content area and sat through an individual interview to discuss his expertise and experiences.
Though the application process was lengthy and arduous, Hefti said the effort was well worth the rewards that come with being a New York State Master Teacher.
Since joining the program, Hefti has experienced several opportunities that may not have been afforded to him without his new distinction.
Among these opportunities include a behind-the-scenes look at the New York State Museum and acceptance into the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, the most competitive and prestigious summer professional development training program for biology teachers in New York.
“I was denied acceptance every year until last summer. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to attend,” Hefti said. “I think I would have been left out again if I wasn’t named a Master Teacher this past spring.”
Hefti recently was invited to speak at a National Science Foundation conference, as well as an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington D.C.
While he conceded to being captivated by some of the scientists in attendance, one person in particular had Hefti’s attention.
“I got to meet the head of Google,” Hefti explained. “He gave a speech about how on any given day there are three billion people using the internet, and that his mission before his time passes is to make sure the rest of the world has access to the internet as well.”