By Shani Peretz, Ph.D.
I love teaching. And that is partially because I love biology. I think learning about how our brains work is fascinating. I love discussing the ethics of cloning, and changing people’s DNA. I also think it’s important to understand how cancer cells divide, and the chance of two people having a baby with a genetic disorder.
But I love teaching even more than I love science. I have had great conversations with alumni when they tell me they remember the first time they saw DNA on a gel, or when they made bacterial glow in the dark. They tell me how much fun they had making mitosis cookies. They remember that being together in our classroom was a joyful experience. And they remember that they worked hard, and the end result was worth the effort.
My hope for all my students is not that they all become scientists. I want them all to be challenged. I want them to work really, really hard at something. To be comfortable being uncomfortable, to understand that discomfort is part of the growth process. And then I want them to see just how successful they can be when they put true effort into a goal.
Peddie teaches students to build habits for success. It teaches students to find subjects or activities about which they are curious, and turn them into passions. And for me, the joy of teaching is not the moment a student learns every bit of biology, and gets an A on a test. The joy comes from watching students try new things and go on new adventures. It comes from seeing them find something they love, and seeing their excitement as they discover that passion.
I have shared in my students' joys and in their tears. I have helped a freshmen advisee deal with homesickness and listened to a senior decide if they should break up with their boyfriend prior to leaving for college. I have chaperoned kids on their first ski trip, their first Hibachi experience or their first Broadway musical. I have held their hands in the emergency room, when I was the only adult they were willing to talk to.
And through all of that, I have felt like the lucky one. It’s a joy to witness them experiencing something for the very first time. It is a real honor to be an adult that a teenager turns to in a time of need.
And I think that there is nothing more powerful than earning the trust of a student, and having them turn to you when they need advice. That’s a pretty special bond. You don’t get that everywhere, but we do get that at Peddie.
That is why I teach. Because I want my students to learn a little bit of science. But more importantly, I want my students to know that they have an adult they can turn to, that they have a cheerleader on their side, that when they send an email in four years, or 20 years, I will remember them, and I will be thrilled to hear from them, and no matter what they are up to, I will be so proud of them.
Shani Peretz, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Science Department and Director of the Research Science Signature Program.