The public school teacher stereotype carries many myths. Teachers work short hours. They have lots of holidays. They spend three months sitting by the pool or vacationing every summer.
But for teachers like Marlow High’s Bill Ray, summer’s no break. It’s back to work, learning more about science and, now, teaching other educators to do the same. Summers put Ray in his students’ place, where he eagerly absorbs as much information as possible to sharpen his skills when he returns to the classroom in the fall.
A love of science inspired Ray to apply for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s Foundation Scholar Program in 2000. Designed to help teachers hone their laboratory skills and learn experiments that can are easily duplicated in a school laboratory, the Foundation Scholar Program has trained more than 60 middle and high school educators since 1988. Ray completed the program and returned to Marlow High School, where integrated his newfound knowledge into his science curriculum.
This summer, OMRF’s Foundation Scholar Program underwent a facelift of sorts. And when organizers sought an experienced teacher to serve as laboratory coordinator, Ray’s name immediately came to mind.
“Bill was chosen because of his personal experience not only as a Foundation Scholar but as a teacher,” said OMRF scientist Timothy Mather, Ph.D., who serves as a mentor for the Foundation Scholar Program. “He ensures that we design coursework that is relevant to the classroom.”
According to Mather, Ray has proven much more than a lab coordinator. “He is a colleague and fellow scientist,” said Mather. “He has been a tremendous asset to us in the implementation of this course, because he knows firsthand what is applicable to teachers today.”
Ray arrived in Oklahoma City in late June to begin organizing the laboratory portion of the summer course for the five teachers (who would arrive on July 5). He and Mather worked together to fine-tune the parameters of the experiments and discuss program details.
“It was humbling to be chosen for this position,” said Ray. “But I love the atmosphere in the lab, and I have always enrolled in some sort of science workshop every summer. Thanks to Tim Mather’s amazing scientific intellect and teaching abilities, this course has been the best of any that I’ve been involved with.”
Ray did not start out as a teacher. But when an economic downturn in the oil industry put his job with Halliburton on the chopping block, he became a teacher. It is a decision he has not regretted.
“Teaching is a lot like research, except you get immediate results,” said Ray, who has taught science at Marlow High School since 1996. “It’s like a science experiment every day, because you learn right up front what works and what doesn’t, and you adjust what you’re doing accordingly.”
While Ray knows that his list of incomplete projects at home will grow due to his time spent at OMRF, he has no regrets. “The last thing I wanted to do was spend my career sitting behind a desk,” he said.
Now in its 18th year, OMRF’s Foundation Scholar Program brings together selected Oklahoma educators to participate in hands-on research and learn methods for enhancing their science curriculum. The teachers work together, side-by-side in a lab, sharing ideas and learning ways to enrich their classroom teaching experience. When they return to their home schools, they possess skills and information that benefit not only their students but their colleagues as well.
Chartered in 1946, OMRF (www.omrf.org) is a nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and curing human disease. Its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease. OMRF is home to Oklahoma’s only member of the National Academy of Sciences.