Tamara Machac ’06

JOB TITLE: Physics and earth science high school teacher
ORGANIZATION: Department of Education
LOCATION: New York, New York
GRADUATE DEGREE:  M.S. in geology and geophysics, Yale University; M.A.T., American Museum of Natural History

What was your first position after college? After graduating from Trinity, I attended Yale’s graduate program in geology and geophysics, where I studied and researched the impact of climate change on regional surface heat budgets. Once I earned my M.S., I worked for approximately two years at an environmental consulting company in New Jersey. At the consulting company, I conducted groundwater sampling and monitoring, calibrated and maintained equipment, and assisted project managers and colleagues in data analysis. 

Has a liberal arts education helped you in shaping your career? Having a liberal arts education has made me a well-rounded person, with interests and skills in a variety of areas. Besides helping me lead a richer life, having a liberal arts education helped me to successfully complete a master of arts in teaching program at the American Museum of Natural History, which involved a great deal of writing and reading about the social sciences. Having a broad range of skills and interests is essential in my current position as a high school physics and earth science teacher in New York City; I am able to better relate to my students and make the material engaging. 

Many aspects of my Trinity experience have been important to advancing my career and graduate school experiences. These include: undergraduate research opportunities, playing a musical instrument in the chamber ensemble, the many discussions I had with my professors, academic excellence in all courses, and having a leadership role in the Karate Club.     

What advice would you give to Trinity students to prepare for a position in your field? I would encourage all science majors to try to get some research experience, and if possible, to participate in a summer research program. I also would encourage students aspiring to go to graduate school in a scientific field to visit the schools they would like to attend. Such visits are a wonderful way to get a better idea of the research interests of the various professors in the program and to get some feedback about it from the current students. For students aspiring to go into teaching, I recommend working as a substitute teacher or a tutor for a few months and talking to teachers in the subject and grade you wish to teach. I also recommend talking to Trinity alumni and friends in different teaching programs (such as Teach For America, New York City Teaching Fellows, M.A.T. programs) to determine if they would like to get their certification via a traditional or nontraditional route.           

What is the biggest misconception about your field? There are many misconceptions about science and teaching. In scientific research, there is a misconception that all scientists follow a single scientific method where they pose a question, come up with a hypothesis, conduct experiments, and then reach some conclusions. This format is how many scientific papers are organized; however, the actual scientific method is a much more complex process that involves critiquing ideas, communicating with other scientists, and creating and testing models (in addition to, or in place of, experiments). There are also misconceptions about the role women have and continue to play in scientific discovery. It is important to ensure that people of all genders are afforded the same opportunities and support to advance their education and careers in the sciences. 

In teaching, there is a misconception that teachers are effective only if students end up with good grades and test scores. Good teachers try to facilitate learning by creating an environment in the classroom that engages the students; however, there are many factors in students’ lives that teachers cannot control, such as motivation to learn, family income, home environment, and nutrition, that affect grades and test scores. In addition, there is a misconception that teachers only teach academic content. Most of my lessons focus on helping students to master important skills, such as creating and interpreting graphs, study strategies, composing professional e-mails, public speaking for presentations, working in a group productively, and completing tasks independently. Many teachers are involved with guiding and helping students to become emotionally mature young people. The biggest contribution a science teacher can make is to help students develop curiosity about our world and the role science plays in helping answer questions about it.