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Helping Teachers Teach Evolution in the United States

The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science provides middle school science teachers with valuable science content and resources to improve evolution understanding in the United States.

Being a science teacher is the greatest job on Earth. Science can be a truly wondrous gift to share with young people. Although the day-to-day interaction can often feel like I am being pecked to death by ducks, I do not regret my decision twenty-six years ago to become a science teacher. I love working with young people and introducing them to humanity’s best way of finding answers.

One of the most important things a teacher can do is build rapport with his or her students. Because I have my students for at least two years in a row, we develop a relationship built on trust and mutual respect over time. In my classroom, learning takes place in a welcoming environment, and this firm but friendly atmosphere is compromised only during one unit of study: evolution.

Richard Dawkins (2009) said it best in his book The Greatest Show on Earth. Imagine being a professor of Roman history who has to constantly, year after year, defend the very existence of the Roman Empire. Despite the overwhelming evidence coming from various sources—architecture, art, literature, etc.—your students are not only skeptical, they can be downright disrespectful. This is what teaching evolution feels like for many science teachers.

Like most teachers, I have at least a handful of students every year who are anxious about learning evolution. For example, many students raised in faiths that totally accept evolution ask whether or not they are “allowed” to learn it in my class. I’ve had students refuse to do any assignments related to evolution or who will sit with their backs to me for the entire evolution unit. This creates anxiety, not only in the students who are told at home that evolution is false but also in the other children in the room who do not understand what all of the fuss is about. Some students who completely accept and understand what I’m teaching are told by their families or pastors that they should not believe a word I say. Last year, an eighth grader came to me in tears after she defended evolution to her pastor who proceeded to call me a “disgusting human being.”

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