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Happy retirement: Second career choice brought science teacher to H-F

Michelle Piper, who for 18 years has shared the world of science with students at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, will be retiring at the end of the school year.

“It went by lickety-split. I can’t believe how fast it went by,” she said. “It seems I just got there.”
 

Michelle Piper

Michelle Piper, who for 18 years has shared the world of science with students at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, will be retiring at the end of the school year.

“It went by lickety-split. I can’t believe how fast it went by,” she said. “It seems I just got there.”

For Piper, education was a second career. She had lots of hands-on science practice working for 22 years at a clinic in Blue Island. She made a decision to go to college, and for a time thought about studying history, but decided she truly had “a love of science” and focused on biology for a bachelor’s degree at St. Xavier University. She later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from there.

Piper’s H-F career has focused on teaching honors and college prep-level biology, and for 17 years she taught the astronomy/geology course. She likes to show students the inter-connectedness of the science disciplines.

“How does biology relate to physics: by the structure and function.  How a cell looks will impact what it’s going to do,” she said. “If you’re talking about chemistry, what biological concepts are in what chemical formula or equation?” 

She points to photosynthesis, “which is a huge biological subset responsible for life on our planet. This is a chemical equation, and so just teaching students that when you’re breaking compounds and putting them back together it’s a chemistry concept, but it also has to do with biology.”

The astronomy/geology class is designed for juniors and seniors. Piper said it helps if a student has taken physics because some of the concepts relate to physics, but she didn’t make it a class prerequisite. She’s covered topics from a search for extraterrestrials to the natural world of the planet, such as volcanoes and earthquakes, the life cycle of stars, and how planets got here. 

She has appreciated that H-F was able to provide online scientific experiments for students to watch this past year of remote learning. While they weren’t hands-on, the projects did give students a chance to record the results and come up with conclusions.

Piper remembers being excited to be welcomed to H-F by Von Mansfield, current superintendent, who was principal at the time, and she recalls having lots of support from fellow faculty members.

“My first year I went into teaching I was confident I knew the content to teach but you’re assuming going into teaching that all students love school,” she said. When that didn’t prove to be 100% true, Piper said she had seasoned teachers come and observe her classroom techniques and offer her tips on how to work to motivate students so she could “develop relationships so students can be successful. I always felt that was a really important feature at H-F because there are so many people who will help. All you have to do is reach out and there’s someone to support you. It’s just a phenomenal place to work in.”

Over the years, the younger teachers have looked to her for guidance. She’s been happy to mentor them.

In retirement, Piper’s immediate plan is to spend quality time with her grandchildren.
 

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