Some people are natural teachers. Kids (and even adults) flock to them because they are friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, hard workers, and effective communicators who deal with the people first and tasks second. They stand out like neon lights, and are found in all grade bands and subject areas. Science teacher Erika Klose, of Winfield (WV) Middle School, is one of those. But Friday was Erika's last day teaching her cherished kids. She is stepping up.
As a middle school student, Erika became obsessed with the just-rediscovered Titanic, helped her father restore old houses, and expected to study art in college. After a geology course captivated her during first semester of college, she got a BA in earth science, then an MS in geology and geophysics … which included a class in GIS. That one GIS class (1999, command line ArcInfo) got her an internship at USGS Woods Hole. It was a "trial by fire" project on coastal vulnerability for the whole US, managing huge amounts of inconsistent data, with a presentation to give at a big international conference in just six weeks. It led to six years of seafloor mapping and data crunching. "I had two Macs, two PCs, and two Linux machines running constantly in my office … just me and six computers," she laughs.
"But one of my tasks was outreach, and I began going into middle schools … and LOVED it. I knew I had to make a change. I went to West Virginia, got my Masters in teaching, and the day I finished student teaching, my cooperating teacher resigned." She took over in January 2008, and has spent the last decade teaching science to students in grades 6-8, mostly 7th grade. "I have kids for a semester, about 160 per year. And last Thursday, I stood in the hall, and 147 kids got in a line one by one and hugged me. It was great, and awful, and I just came back in the room and cried." Because Erika is stepping up, for teachers across the state.
At an "Intro to ArcMap" training in 2010 for teachers exploring GIS, reluctant participant Erika was discovered in the back row quietly building the periodic table atop a map of West Virginia, in GIS. One of the leaders looked at her and asked "Who ARE you?" Since then, Erika has attended Esri's Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute and led GIS instruction of teachers across WV (and other states), first in desktop and then online GIS. She has helped update some state standards to include use of GIS. She earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is incoming president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, earned a $10,000 prize for her school via the Day of Code challenge, and was Esri Teacher Video Challenge awardee in September 2017. Then, in October 2017, she was a Milken Family Foundation award winner, one of 47 nationally (with a great surprise video).
So now? "Starting Monday, I am 'Coordinator for STEM and Computer Science' for the WV Dept of Education." She has to work on redesigning standards, upgrading current teaching, growing the pipeline of well-trained teachers, and bridging diverse communities. "I think my ability to solve problems is one of my greatest strengths. I'm not afraid of things, like breaking software (just uninstall it if you kill it), or building stuff, or getting dirty. My parents gave me that. They let me DO a lot of things … and, I'll have a lot to do here."
So what of teachers and kids and GIS? "They are different as learners. Teachers come in with the idea they need to be expert to present it in their class, and that's a barrier that is really hard to break thru, because teachers are also coming at it from the logistical side … software, controls, data, institutional barriers. Really, they just have to learn just this much" [cupping her hands together as if to enclose a baseball] "and just let kids go. Kids just do it. They're not afraid. They focus on the contents and yell 'Look at this!', and don't care about the software. They just do it, and LOVE GIS!"
Will this new job be a challenge? "I'm ready for the challenge. I've said 'I'm a teacher' for so long that that's what I still am. My heart hurts leaving, but one of my friends said 'You're the one that should go and do this, for us, and for the kids.' So I'm ready. I'm there to make a difference, for all of 'em out there."