Taking Inspiration from Science: Meet Jennifer Cheeseman
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Education Forward Arizona wanted to ask some of Arizona’s teachers what inspires their work. Meet Jennifer Cheesman, a science teacher at Zuni Hills Elementary School in the Peoria Unified School District. She is a semi-finalist for the 2022 Arizona Educational Foundation’s Teacher of the Year and recently received a Trailblazing STEM Educator Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Lieberman, was my inspiration for becoming a teacher at PS 63 in Queens, New York. We had to move away from our beloved school, and she had arranged a box of treasures from the class that included a stuffed animal and cards from classmates. Two days after we moved, I broke my arm riding my bike down a steep hill and once again a package of cards arrived from Mrs. Lieberman and the class. She was an amazing teacher.
I always knew I wanted to become a teacher and told my parents when I was six years old that God put me here on earth to be a teacher. I never strayed from that in high school or college and have been teaching since I was fresh out of college at 21 years old.
What do you want people to know about teachers or teaching?
Teachers are wives, moms, stepmoms, grandmothers, etc. and we have feelings too. Often parents take their hard day or frustrations out on the teacher instead of finding out the root of the issue or both sides.
As teachers, we wear many hats every day. We are nurses, mom, friends, and teachers. Our kiddos need us to help them with their injuries, comfort them after they’ve been yelled at while being dropped off at school or counseling them when they are having friend issues. We are there for your kiddo and love our job. Please remember to treat teachers as you would want to be treated.
My motto is, at the end of the day only kindness matters. We need to be kind to each other even if we are frustrated. We can accomplish a lot more together when we work together instead of against each other.
Just as you go to the doctor to treat your ailment, you go to the teacher to treat a learning situation. Teachers have studied 4, 6, 8 years or longer and continually take professional education courses to hone their craft and as such please have respect for them.
What is the best part of being a teacher or what inspires you?
The best part of being a teacher is when the lightbulb goes off in their head and the connections you are trying to make between a lesson and the real world happens.
One story comes to mind: an 8th-grade social studies teacher called me and said “My students have a question. Can you come down and answer it?” So we swapped classrooms, and I went to her room to talk about space and help clear up some misconceptions about the space race. 45 minutes later, the students had a better understanding of the space race and the history of being the first to space and first to the moon. As a science teacher, I am inspired by the lessons from what’s around me, from space, to biologists, to underwater explorers. I love learning and sharing new things with my students.
What would you tell someone interested in becoming a teacher?
Find your passion to teach. Find a grade, a subject or a school that fits you and allows you to be the best teacher you can be. As a veteran of 27 years, I love my job each and every day because I love teaching science and no two years are ever the same. Find your Personal Learning Community, the tribe of people who will lift you up on the hard days and celebrate with you on the best days. I am grateful for my Space Sisters because they help me to be a better teacher, a better friend and a better person.
What are some of the best things people can do to show appreciation to teachers this week?
While gift cards are nice, teachers want to know that they are making a difference in your child’s life. A gift does not have to be fancy or expensive but those handwritten notes or emails really make us happy and fill our hearts. But, we won’t turn down gift cards, flowers, coffee or chocolate…just no mugs, lol!