Faculty Profile: Amelia Barnes, Upper School Science Teacher
October 07, 2021
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. I'm originally from South Carolina, but we moved up to Canada when I was just six years old. I was interested in science in high school, specifically in chemistry and biology. I went to a university close to home, Cape Breton University, where I got an undergraduate degree in biology, focusing mainly on the animal and environmental side of biology. And then after I finished my undergrad, I was at a crossroads about whether I wanted to go into research and do a master's degree, or if I wanted to do something else with my undergrad. I had a lot of experience working with children and youth as a long-time dance teacher, which I loved, so I thought I’d marry those two interests together and become a science teacher. I decided to do a Bachelor of Education, which is a separate degree in Canada that you do after an undergraduate degree.
I also had a restless itch to travel and see the world, and so I found out about programs with the Nova Scotia Department of Education, which offer Nova Scotia high school diplomas to Chinese students, and I thought that was an incredible opportunity to travel and challenge myself by diving into something completely new.
I finished my Bachelor of Education in July of 2012, and I was on a plane to China in August. Originally, I planned to maybe stay a year or two in Nanchang, but I loved the students, the parents, and the other staff so I ended up staying for five years. I started teaching physics and drama, but I was disappointed that they didn’t have a biology program. The first year I was there, I told my students that I had a biology degree and a lot of them said that they would love to study biology. So, I advocated the principal that I’d love to implement the course at the school.
The next year I pioneered the biology program, and we were able to grow over the next four years that I was there.
After five years, I felt like I still had an itch to go back to academia and do some research and produce something that was uniquely my own. I did a master's degree in Halifax, Nova Scotia at Dalhousie University in environmental studies on road wildlife interactions and how roads impact habitat connectivity.
When I finished my thesis, I realized I wanted to get back to the classroom, and my old school in Nanchang, China asked me to come back. I went back in the fall of 2019 and worked there another five months before COVID hit. I was already back in Canada for Chinese New Year Break, and I couldn’t go back so I taught my students for the rest of the year online.
I applied for substitute teaching in Nova Scotia, but then I was also asked to fill a position for a chemistry teacher at a school in Chengdu, China so, I taught that online for the rest of the year. I wanted to move on to a permanent position at a highly international independent school. I was looking at a lot of places - I was considering Europe and considering going back to China as well.
A colleague who I had worked with in China, Angelique Jewell who is a language and literature teacher here at Léman, suggested that I should apply to Léman if there was something in my field. I looked into the school and all of the cool things that Léman is doing and its progressive stances on a lot of different issues, which I really agreed with. I looked at the content and photos on the website and I was sold! I was thrilled when I was asked to join the Upper School Science department.
You’ve taught in three different countries now, Canada, China, and the United States. How does that experience influence you as an educator?
I mean, when I was teaching in China, I was able to be working with a Canadian system like the Canadian curriculum, implementing the same curriculum that I would have implemented at home in Nova Scotia but under Chinese parameters.
I feel that I have brought a resilience with me to weather changes and be able to work with a lot of different personalities. People will always have different ideas about how they want the classroom run, and there were some challenges to working with Chinese administrators who didn't quite understand the methods that I was using. I would peek into their normal Chinese classrooms where they were mostly lecturing and doing workbooks, which is not how I teach. There were times when the Chinese administrators were a little curious or wondering what are you doing in your classrooms? Why are you taking the kids outside or making posters or having them do presentations in a science class?
I felt like I had to prove that some of my methods were effective, which gave me the skills to be able to explain my methods and be confident in why I teach the way I do.
Also, many of the parents didn't speak any English, so I had to get creative and work with translators and work with the Chinese head teachers for each of the classes to help communicate with parents. Overall, I think my experiences have really made me flexible as a teacher and taught me to not get too hung up on the one right way to do things and to be able to adapt to different situations.
What is your educational philosophy?
My philosophy is always evolving as I grow and have more experiences as an educator. However, my general philosophy on education and teaching is students need experiences to learn. Of course, they need information, but science specifically is about getting your hands a little dirty or trying something out for yourself. I think that’s one of the most important experiences you can offer your students in a science classroom.
What are your goals for yourself professionally and in your classroom this year?
Coming into a new environment, we spend time figuring out logistics of how to navigate the new environment and structure of the school. This year, I teach 6th, 7th, and 10th-grade science and so one of my goals is to see progress in all my students. I know that a lot of students have had a difficult year because of COVID, so I want to give them a boost this year and help them get motivated to learn again. For myself, I’d like to learn to streamline my communication with parents and students and my planning and be very organized this year so that no one feels like they don't understand what they're supposed to be doing and can focus completely on learning.
What are your impressions of Léman so far?
So far, it's been a really great experience. The students are diverse, and they are inquisitive, and they are they seem to be excited to be back at school. They are excited to talk to their teachers and engage in the classroom. The administration has been very supportive, especially of new teachers giving us orientation time in the beginning and helping us settle in and transition to teaching. The facilities are great. I've got a great classroom with a lot of space, so it's been easy to transition from one side of my classroom being instructional and then the other side of my classroom being hands-on. I've met lots of great people, and I'm really enjoying all my students and of course, the lunches are fantastic! It’s been a great year so far.