By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

SherwoodPORT TOWNSEND, Wash. – Washington State University alumna and Port Townsend science teacher Lois Sherwood is among the statewide winners who will compete nationally for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

But her path to teaching rockstardom was basically finished before it began – until it met a rebirth.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology from WSU in 1972 and a teaching certificate, she was primed to be a science teacher. Instead, she went into the medical field, she said, because “I enjoyed the application of science and working with people.”

One day, those “people” included a classroom of high school business students – and everything changed.

Teaching is ‘just who I am’

Sherwood-class
Photos show Sherwood in class with her Port Townsend High School science students. (Photos by Jan Boutilier, Port Townsend High School)

“It was the most visceral epiphany I ever experienced,” Sherwood said. “I knew then that I was a teacher.”

She quit her medical job, returned to school to renew her credentials, then worked in community-based education until she began with the local high school. It wasn’t easy: She taught in four different classrooms in four different buildings.

“It was a tough year but I knew that I was where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Sherwood settled into 10th-grade science and earned a master’s degree in biology through WSU.

“This deepened my scientific knowledge and broadened my perspective on what it was to be a teacher,” she said. “What I have realized over the years it that I never really became a teacher, it is just who I am.”

Science develops durable skills

And, more specifically, she is a science teacher. She said reading, writing and math take on meaning for students when they use them in science.

Sherwood-skeleton“Almost all students get excited about solving a problem or trying to understand a complex concept in science,” she said. “Thinking and problem-solving are the most durable skills we can teach our students as we prepare them for life after school. Science is just a natural place for those skills to be developed.”

The annual national award, typically announced in the spring, goes to two teachers from each state. Each winner receives $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and a paid trip for two to Washington D.C., to receive recognition and attend professional development events. Read more about the awards at https://www.paemst.org/.