Cordova student teacher named top in UAS master’s program

Jessica Smyke awarded for outstanding work

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School student teacher Jessica Smyke was recently recognized for outstanding performance. Photo courtesy of Anita Smyke

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School student teacher Jessica Smyke has been named 2020 Outstanding Graduate by a University of Alaska Southeast secondary education certification program.

Smyke, who will obtain her Master of Arts in Teaching on Saturday, May 2, has spent the past school year working under the supervision of Cordova Jr./Sr. High School teacher Lance Westing. Smyke, having spent much of the past seven years doing science-related seasonal work for groups like the Forest Service, helped teach environmental science, anatomy and physiology, among other subjects.

“[Smyke’s] own passion for the environment comes through in her teaching — inspiring her students to dig deeply into current environmental issues and to look at those issues from multiple perspectives,” wrote Asst. Prof. Angie Lunda, who nominated Smyke for the award. “The students graduating from Jessica’s environmental science class are able to think critically about important science issues facing our state and, indeed, our entire planet.”

Lunda nominated Smyke because of Smyke’s motivation, her deep understanding of the Alaska environment and her strong personal devotion to education, Lunda wrote. Smyke will be honored at the university’s online commencement ceremony Sunday, May 3.

For Smyke, balancing teaching duties with the workload of three online classes was the greatest challenge of her 11-month condensed master’s program.

Jessica Smyke dissects a moose heart in the classroom. Photo courtesy of Jessica Smyke

“I knew teaching was going to be a lot of work, but this showed me just how much time it takes to really plan good lessons,” Smyke said. “The student body here is very good overall, and very academically involved, and involved in a lot of extracurriculars as well.”

At Cordova Jr./Sr. High School, Smyke helped design educational activities like scientific “speed dating,” in which each student learns about a particular topic and then has two minutes to teach another student about that topic. In one “speed dating” exercise, each student took on the identity of a particular element from the periodic table, and then had to explain to others how they would behave and interact with other elements. In these and other exercises, Smyke’s teaching style emphasizes group work and partner work. These activities help engage even those students who rarely speak up in class, Smyke said.

The Master of Arts in Teaching program is a challenging but fast way to start an education career at a higher salary, Smyke said. This fall, Smyke plans to begin teaching at Nome’s Anvil City Science Academy, a public charter school for fifth-eighth graders.