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No. 44, No. 67

September 1 , 2010

Kirkwood Chemistry Teacher Named Missouri Teacher of the Year

A Kirkwood chemistry teacher known for his ability to inspire both students and fellow educators has been selected as Missouri’s Teacher of the Year for 2010-11, state education officials announced today.

Robert Becker

Robert "Bob" Becker

Kirkwood High School

Robert "Bob" Becker has been sharing his love of chemistry with Kirkwood High School students since 1990. He was chosen for the award Monday by a nine-member selection committee appointed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He automatically becomes Missouri’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year program.

Becker has taught traditional and honors chemistry and AP chemistry during his time at Kirkwood. In his written application, Becker said that without the passion he feels for the subject, he couldn’t be a teacher.

“Chemistry is, of its own accord, inherently fascinating and infinitely applicable to so many aspects of our lives,” he said. “The chemistry teacher’s craft involves staging the scene and then staying out of the way so students can appreciate an unobstructed view of the wonder of it all – to give everyone a front row seat to this incredible production we call the universe – in 3-D no less!”

David Holley, principal of Kirkwood High School, said in a letter of recommendation that Becker motivates students by making chemistry relevant to their lives and by going out of his way to help them get caught up with their work during study hall.

“Bob’s concern for each child is apparent in all of his classes, but the way he approaches his tutoring separates him from others,” Holley said.

Becker believes the best way for him to contribute to the teaching profession is by conducting workshops and sharing the labs, demonstrations and lesson plans that have proven effective in his classroom. He has presented at conferences and meetings across the country and as far abroad as Ireland and Kuwait. Becker also has started writing chemistry-themed computer games and simulations and sharing them via the Internet.

“I truly believe it is the responsibility of teachers of my generation who believe in what they are doing to keep that craft alive and thriving and to pass it along to the new generation of teachers in hopes that they will not just perpetuate it, but advance the craft to places my generation never dreamed of,” Becker said.

One of his fellow Kirkwood science teachers, Joe Bartin, said in a letter of recommendation that colleagues regularly go to Becker for ideas and advice on teaching techniques, and that Becker is always eager to help.

“In short, Bob Becker is one of those teachers that other teachers aspire to be,” Bartin said. “He has the combination of talent, intelligence, personality, and patience that makes him incredibly effective at helping students and teachers improve in many aspects of their lives.”

Becker himself credits a suggestion made by a veteran teacher at a 1993 summer conference as changing his own approach toward instruction. Before then, he was always in charge of exciting classroom demonstrations like “The Flame Tornado” and “The Pringles Rocket.” The teacher suggested that Becker step aside and let his students handle some of the demonstrations by themselves.

“I love it,” he said. “They love it. It gives the students responsibility for teaching that material, it empowers them to become better public speakers, and it gives them genuine ownership of the demonstration and the chemistry behind it. There are many teaching innovations I have tried over the years, but none as successful in my opinion as the weekly ‘student demo.’”

In addition to his work in the classroom, Becker sponsors the Kirkwood Youth Service Club, which organizes a number of charitable events for the community including blood drives, food drives, adopting needy families during holidays and many more.

Becker has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a master’s degree in education from Washington University in St. Louis. Before arriving at Kirkwood, he taught chemistry and physics at Greenwich High School in Connecticut from 1984-1989.

The State Board of Education will formally honor Becker and the five Missouri Teacher of the Year finalists at a banquet Nov. 15 in Jefferson City. Each teacher will receive cash awards and other prizes.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education conducts the Missouri Teacher of the Year program with financial support provided by The Boeing Company, St. Louis.