New Teacher Attends Prestigious Program at National Air and Space Museum
By Grace Allen
Maggie Wile took a great leap of faith last year. She left a lucrative, decade-long career in finance and decided to become a middle-school science teacher after just three days of substitute teaching. Turns out it was a good choice for the Norfolk resident.
This past spring, Wile was one of twelve teachers chosen out of hundreds nationwide to participate in the Teacher Innovator Institute (TII) professional development program, which was held July 11 to 22 at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C.
In the highly selective program, TII teacher-scholars focus on exploring the connections between STEM/STEAM education and authentic learning, a multi-disciplinary instructional approach of engaging learners by solving real-world problems. Object-based learning, which encourages close observation and critical thinking, was a focal point during the two weeks.
The TII experience was inspirational and exciting, says Wile, who teaches eighth grade science at Foxborough Regional Charter School, a K-12 school.
“I’m going into my second year of teaching and I have so much to learn,” she said. “It’s going to be another big year for me and focusing on object-based learning in this program was a big step. I was inadvertently doing that in my teaching last year but didn’t really know what it was called and didn’t know how to implement it. Now, having more instruction around it, I know it’s going to be very impactful for my students.”
Wile’s parents were both educators, and she thought she would become one too, but instead ended up in finance after college. The desire to become a teacher was always in the back of her mind, however. She and her husband have a small child, and last year she realized her work-life balance was non-existent.
“I wasn’t happy and was lucky enough to be able to step away and consider my next move,” Wile explained. “Three days in to substitute teaching and I quickly realized this was where I was meant to be and this was what I was meant to be doing.”
She got her emergency teaching license right away, and then took the official licensure exam and passed.
Wile, 39, says she has always loved science, and her undergraduate degree was in kinesiology. When the opportunity came up to sub in an eighth-grade science class, she thought she might enjoy the experience. She was right.
“I like that I get to be goofy to engage the kids, and have fun with it,” Wile said. “You can get messy with science.”
The TII program is a fully funded two-year program. When Wile returns to NASM next summer, she will help mentor a new cohort of educators.
Each participant in the program receives a total of $5,000 across the two years, with the goal to create and work on the objectives in a personal professional development plan (PDP). Teachers can use the money to attend professional development programs in their profession—they typically have to pay out of pocket to attend--or to outfit their classrooms with materials or supplies to enhance learning for their students.
Wile plans to use at least some of the funds towards building out a classroom science library, to supplement the curriculum for her students. The charter school does not have a dedicated library for students. Her overall goal, however, is to create a more solid curriculum for the entire middle school science program, which has suffered from educator turnover due to the pandemic. Wile says she has support from her principal, as well as mentoring from a colleague at the charter school with close to 20 years of experience.
As a new, second-career teacher, Wile’s contagious enthusiasm likely will play a key role in achieving her objectives, which also include boosting the STEM alignment between the charter school’s middle and high school.
The two weeks in Washington this summer made her goals that much more possible, says Wile.
“There was so much to learn from everybody,” she said. “We had 30-year professionals all the way down to myself and another first-year teacher. I took full advantage of learning from everybody, and they did a great job of balancing education and instruction and growth, as well as networking and building really strong friendships, which is pretty neat. It really was a fantastic experience.”
For more information on the Teacher Innovator Institute, visit https://airandspace.si.edu/learn/educator-resources/teacher-innovator-institute. Applications for 2023 open up in November.