Carolina graduate Sallie Senseney came to teach biology because of three impressive teachers who shared with her the wonders of nature: her mother and father, both teachers, and an island.
Her father taught high school biology on Ocracoke Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When Senseney wasn’t in his classroom, she explored the sandy, windy, wild laboratory of coastal life.
“We all had a bicycle and kids kind of had free rein of the island back then because there was very little traffic,” recalls Senseney, who graduated from UNC in 2010 with a degree in biology and teaching credentials. She completed the UNC-BEST program (Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching).
Senseney and her family moved to the mountains when she was in third grade. She graduated from Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, N.C.
After UNC, Senseney returned to the same high school, where she has taught general and honors biology, along with AP biology to college-inclined students.
“Generally the area is pretty poor, and it’s very rural,” Senseney says. “One of the challenges is making science relatable to students who don’t think of themselves as scientists.”
Senseney tries to find a hook. Many of her students hunt or fish, which is helpful when she teaches anatomy or discusses population dynamics and human effects on the deer population. Students also discuss environmental regulations, health and preservation.
UNC-BEST had a big impact on her teaching style. Senseney runs a student-centered classroom. She strives to be “super-visible” and constantly circulates among her students.
When students have questions, Senseney asks questions right back to lead them in the right direction. “Over and over again, I find myself saying, ‘You know this. Use your brain.’”
Two years ago, Senseney mentored a troubled student who spent time in a juvenile detention facility and considered dropping out of school because of mounting court fees. She tutored him at lunch and after school. He graduated last year.
“My job is to convince students that they should want to learn what I am trying to teach. I try to do this by making science real — making it relate to their lives right now.”
Photo courtesy of Sallie Senseney.
Published December 6, 2013.