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Every teacher wants to be called an all-star, but not many get the trophy to match. Garrett Lim is one of those honored few teachers to be recognized by Major League Baseball as an All-Star, as he was the Chicago White Sox’s selection to the 2014 All-Star contest. We sat down with Garrett to watch him showcase his teacher’s home run swing.
Jake Miller, The Educator’s Room: What was it like to be named a People Magazine All-Star Teacher?
Garrett Lim, Chemistry Teacher and Chicago White Sox All-Star: In one word, it was awesome. First a student nominated me, and I thought that alone was quite an honor. All of the sudden I started to receive some emails from people who informed me I was a finalist for the Chicago White Sox. The other 2 teachers that were finalists with me were pretty incredible teachers as well, and I didn’t really expect to win. I was honored and humbled to learn that I was selected as the winner.
JM: Describe the process as to how you were nominated.
GL: The contest was on MLB.com. One student who was a baseball fan nominated me after talking about the game after classes. Soon Major League Baseball started asking me questions about background, accomplishments, and involvement outside of school. The rest is history.
JM: What was it like to be at the MLB All-Star festivities?
GL: The 29 other teachers and I were able to go to a bunch of different events that were teaching & baseball related. Target gave us tickets to the Home Run Derby. We also didn’t just receive tickets to the all-star game, we were honored on the field. We did a service project for underprivileged youth. We were able to meet Jill Biden, the Second Lady and a teacher in her own right. It was a very special, once in a lifetime event.
JM: What was it like to see Frank Thomas, your favorite player, get inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame the same year you were honored?
GL: This was also a very special moment in my life to see a man I idolized make it there. After collecting his baseball cards and memorabilia, to see him and his career become something so special that it will be honored by the Hall of Fame was great. He truly started from the bottom and made his way to the top. It’s something that can inspire us all.
JM: In your bio on MLB.com, you claim that you “met teachers who changed your thinking about education. They encouraged you to learn, not just study.” Who were those teachers and how did they change you?
GL: A couple of professors from college – and organic chemistry and bio professor – each changed me, not to mention several teaching assistants in the department. The high school I went to was competitive, but most people only cared about their GPA. That mindset got upended when I saw how dedicated these instructors were to their profession. One prof had office hours where you were allowed to talk about anything – but chemistry. They helped me learn that education isn’t just chasing grades.
JM: It also says you have experience in the chemistry field prior to teaching. Can you elaborate on what you did and how that impacts your classroom?
GL: Because of those instructors, teaching was in back of my mind after college; still, I pursued the chemistry field. I worked for quality control in pharmaceuticals. I did research for other products. In all, I worked 3 jobs in 4 years. It was a roller coaster. I quickly learned the office wasn’t for me. I needed to be with people and be outside of cubicle and office. Still, it was helpful that I worked these positions before I pursued the calling to teach.
Going into the classroom gave me life. It wasn’t just teaching, but interacting with students that gave me meaning. The stuff we learned and teach isn’t just for high school or chemistry, but for life. I was able to use some of those skills I learned in the field (as a manager) to help me negotiate my way around classroom management and do my best each day.
JM: What do you like best about teaching chemistry?
GL: I love the subject. It gives me a great feeling that this passion can be transferred to others. Some students tell me how they enjoy chemistry. One of the best things about teaching chemistry is they see how easily we can relate it to their life experience.
I also really love to have my hands into the formation of a student’s bright future. There’s nothing like encouraging students to build a better work ethic and succeeding. Teaching them to persevere through a trial and difficulty. At the end of the year, they often come back and thank us for not allowing them to give up. The interactions and relationships make teaching such a fruitful profession.
JM: What are your thoughts on the push for STEM education in Americans schools?
GL: I think it’s a good thing that there’s a national push to improve the education our students get in those fields. They can truly stretch the mind of students. I’m curious to see how it can be implemented on a large scale. Teachers need to buy into STEM so that students will too. I hope it’s a successful push, because the next generation of students will be more competitive and innovative if we’re able to harness these skills in them.
JM: How do science teachers best approach hot, politically charged topics in the field like evolution, creationism, climate change, and others?
GL: Personally I get disturbed when facts are politicized. If there is a topic that causes commotion, we look at both viewpoints and then the facts behind it. There’s a lot of “bad science” out there, and I want students to be more discerning of their sources. Some guy in a lab coat does not make for true science. The facts can be obfuscated in any field. Don’t just go by what the person is saying – justify why and how they’re saying it.
Still, I have my own opinions about those things, but I remain a neutral party as a teacher. I present all sides of the equation so that students can formulate their own opinions.
JM: What is America doing right in regards to science education?
GL: There’s a value in science, and the money has been put where the mouth is. There’s more incentive to become a science teacher from the government and from colleges. There’s also an avenue for the great scientific minds of our age to serve the public.
Though I might be in the minority, I also believe that the Next Generation Science Standards are good; I also like that they include an engineering component to it. I don’t think we can assess scientific acumen with just a test – there needs to be more than that. While I’m curious as to how they’ll be implemented, I think we’re going in the right direction.
GL: You can’t force things. If teachers aren’t buying into something, it just won’t happen. There’s also too much testing. In life, you don’t take tests continually. As a journalist, scientist, or working in the office, you are assessed based upon the situation – not multiple choice. There needs to be more formative learning and project-based learning where students are assessed on what they produce. Problem is there’s no way to nationalize or standardize that. We are caught between what the government wants to see happen and how the teachers are going to start teaching to the test. The students will suffer by jumping through hoops instead of exploring.
JM: What’s one goal you have for yourself in the upcoming year?
GL: I want to revamp some curriculum for AP Chemistry, as the test was rewritten last year. A few other minor things in my other classes are changing, so I’ll tweak there. That’s the task of this profession – it’s always in motion. I am also still trying to balance being a parent (two children, aged 2 and 5) and a teacher.
JM: How do you plan on taking your All-Star status back to the classroom?
GL: I found it remarkable that my principal invited me to accept the award in front of my colleagues. Teaching can be a thankless job, as our synergy can be off-balance because of going back and forth between parents, admin, students, and other demands, but I wanted to encourage the teachers at our school (and now across the nation) to know that the folks at Target, Major League Baseball, and our students think that we’re important.
Other than that, I don’t want this to change me much, and I don’t think it will. It humbled me. It gives me something to look back and reflect upon. Most of all, it was great to network with and be inspired by 29 other all-star teachers who can encourage me to be a better teacher.
JM: How many days until the start of school Garrett?
GL: We begin on August 13th, so not much longer!
JM: Best of luck this school year.
GL: Thanks, Jake!
Have an #InspirationalEducator you think is worth honoring? Tweet who and why to @MrJakeMiller