Vani Pillai may be a teacher, but she prefers to act more like a facilitator in her Bioscience Career Academy classes at Service High School.
By guiding her students to figure things out for themselves, she believes their curiosity will be piqued and they’ll better understand the lessons. One way she does this is by not directly answering her students’ questions.
“So if you ask me, ‘What is the function of this?’, I lead you in other ways to find that function,” explained Pillai.
KTVA’s Teacher of the Week may be in charge of her classroom, but she said her students need to be in charge of their education. Acting as a facilitator helps them do that, she notes.
“Turning over the roll of learning, to ownership of learning,” she said. “That’s what matters. Because kids have to own the content.”
But in order to own the content, Pillai says, the students have to trust that she will help them understand it.
“If you don’t win their hearts, you can’t win their minds,” said Pillai.
From what the students told KTVA, their teacher does a great job at winning both.
“She really cares about how the students are doing,” said ninth-grader Kira Young of Pillai. “She always wants to make sure everyone understands basically as much as they can.”
Along with her master’s degree in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University, Pillai took an additional 320 hours worth of classes to teach Service’s Bioscience Career Academy classes. The additional workload was a welcome one, as Pillai says she loves to learn as much as she can about the biomedical field. She links that passion with her secret to success in her 20 years of teaching (14 of those spent in Alaska).
“I think my students kind of know that,” said Pillai. “I get excited about what we talk about, knowing we have and can get the tools to solve many things out there.”
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