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Matthew Reynolds: ‘I Believe Learning Comes from Experience and Reflection on that Experience’

Matt Reynolds

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education? 

As a Ph.D. student turned faculty member, this question is two-fold. As a Ph.D. student, I decided to attend NC State because of the diversity, academic activity and strong reputation of the Department of STEM Education and College of Education faculty. I knew being able to work with such faculty would help me develop the skills I would need to be a successful teacher educator in the future. NC State also presented me with the possibility to work with pre-service science teachers — an opportunity simply not available at schools with smaller education programs. As a new faculty member, I was attracted to NC State for many of the same reasons. I could continue to work with the outstanding faculty of the NC State College of Education that I had developed close professional and personal relationships with over the past few years. I was also excited this position at the NC State College of Education will allow me to continue my work with our pre-service science teachers and work alongside P-12 partners I have already established promising relationships with.

Why did you choose a career in education? 

I believe in the nobility of the teaching profession and that quality teachers change students’ lives. I am a fourth-generation educator, so you could maybe say that teaching is in my blood. As a scientist, I have always enjoyed understanding how the world around us works. As a science educator, I have always found it rewarding to help cultivate an interest in the natural world in others.

What drew you to your specific field? 

We live in a society that is often turning to science and technology to solve many of its problems. The world needs more scientists if we are going to find cures for diseases, like cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart disease, or solve other eminent problems related to global climate change and the world’s energy future. Fields related to science and technology are among the fastest-growing in our job markets today and there are simply not enough qualified applicants. Sadly, I believe this is due, in part, to a lack of effective science educators that possess the knowledge and skills to transform complex scientific concepts into meaningful instruction for their students. It was these beliefs that prompted me to pursue a career in science teacher education.

Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?

It was a difficult decision to leave the public school classroom, but ultimately I realized that my influence as a high school science teacher, while more personal, was somewhat limited in how many students I could impact over the course of my career. By becoming a teacher educator, while my influence will be indirect through the teachers I help prepare, I hope that I can positively impact a greater number of students and communities over the course of my career. To become a teacher educator, I needed to deepen my understanding of my profession, and pursuing a Ph.D. was the first step.

What are your research interests and what sparked your interest in that topic(s)? 

To this point, all of my work has been centered around developing effective science teachers. My primary research interests include understanding how pre-service teachers develop their professional knowledge for teaching (e.g., knowledge of subject matter, pedagogy, pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), assessment, students, instructional strategies, etc.) and how teacher performance assessments, including the edTPA, might influence teachers’ development of their professional knowledge. These interests began when I was a pre-service and early career teacher when I quickly realized that understanding your subject matter was only a portion of what makes an effective teacher.

What is one research project or moment in your academic career that you are particularly proud of? 

For my dissertation, I investigated the characteristics of pre-service science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge development during their last year of a teacher preparation program, including student teaching and the edTPA creation process. In that study, I observed how the various aspects of a teacher preparation program influenced the candidates’ PCK development. Right now, starting this new position as a program coordinator of a teacher preparation program, I am pleased I have the opportunity to implement many of the recommendations I had made previously as a result of that study.

What is your teaching philosophy? 

One of my favorite shows is MythBusters. While to my knowledge none of its creators or hosts came from the field of education, the “failure is always an option” philosophy embodies science taught through an inquiry-centered, constructivist approach. I believe learning comes from experience and reflection on that experience. The goal of MythBusters was to take viewers through as many scientific practices as they could, because they understood it would make the end results more meaningful. As science teachers, we need to do the same thing with our students, letting them be the scientists, for the exact same reason.

What do you hope your students learn from you?

I hope my students learn the knowledge and skills they will need to become effective science teachers in the 21st-century classroom. I hope they become reflective and caring educators that critically analyze their teaching practice and continue to seek ways to improve.

What do you think makes someone an “extraordinary educator?” 

In an essay written for NPR, the great educational scholar Dr. Lee Shulman presented a metaphor of how teaching is similar to his favorite deli meat, pastrami. He explained that the parts of pastrami, the lean meat and fat, are marbled, or mixed together, rather than neatly separated into layers. While separate layers are often easier to build, to schedule and to design, marbling demands an ‘extraordinary educator’ to work within the often messy world of people and complex relationships and contexts. The ‘extraordinary educator’ understands that teaching is complex and context-dependent; that there is no single right approach that can be implemented in all contexts and to any group of students. The ‘extraordinary educator’ understands how to blend habits of mind, habits of practice and habits of the heart with their students, just like pastrami.