Amie Snapke grew up in Southfield and was a nature and animal lover from a young age. After graduating from Southfield Lathrup High School, she began studying zoology at Michigan State University, but transferred to Eastern Michigan University when her focus shifted to science education. After graduating summa cum laude, Snapke taught middle and elementary school in the Huron Valley Schools for five years, during which time she earned her master’s degree in educational technology from Lawrence Technological Institute.This is her seventh year teaching science at Forsythe.
Snapke lives in Belleville with her husband, Tim, and two rescue dogs, Jolisa and Ziggy. She has “an intelligent and amazing” 18-year-old stepdaughter, Helaina, whom she sees regularly. The family enjoys spending time outside hiking and camping, visiting museums, and just hanging out.
Why did you become a teacher? I had an English class at MSU that required me to volunteer in a classroom and I found that I loved my time there. It made me start thinking about the kind of job that I could have in science and I realized that I wouldn’t be happy working in a lab but instead working with young people.
What makes you well-suited for the job? I am totally addicted to learning and eternally curious. I find it energizing to work with young people who are middle school aged.
What do you now know about teaching that you didn’t know right out of college? I had a lot of teachers who loved to listen to themselves speak. In college, I learned about structuring different sorts of learning activities, but not exactly how to implement them. Now I know that effective teaching is more about facilitating learning and coaching students through their learning process.
How has the profession changed since you started teaching? How have students changed? The teaching profession has become something portrayed in a negative light in the mainstream media. It seems there are fewer resources and less focus on doing what is best for kids in terms of policies handed down to districts. Students have more technology in their pockets than when I first started teaching. In some ways, they are more computer literate, but they need to be taught how to filter through the plethora of information around them. In some ways, students haven’t changed much. They are still very social and constantly trying to figure out the world around them and how they fit in it. This is the fun of adolescence.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing? I would be an interpretive park ranger working at a national park in the mountains, such as Glacier, Grand Tetons or Mt. Rainier. So I would get to hike and be in natural beauty as I taught visitors the science they were immersed in. I would also design the educational programming. As a bonus on some days, I would be able to bring my dogs to work with me.
Some studies have shown that girls begin to lose interest in science in middle school. Do you find that to be true? If so, how do you respond? I find that some girls do lose interest in science, but not all girls. I share strong female examples such as Shirley Jackson, Jane Goodall and Marie Curie. I give opportunities for leadership roles in group work. I also lead by example as a woman in science. Honestly, by eighth grade there are many girls and at-risk students who are losing interest because they are feeling like an outsider. I try to bring everyone in and help them make connections to their life. I have, and teach, a growth mindset.
What are your top three tips for new teachers? It’s important to build relationships with students. Find out what they like and don’t like and laugh with them. Build your own professional networks to sustain your learning and supports. If you can’t find it within your school, look for organizations beyond. Finally, make sure to take care of yourself and not take everything personally. It is a challenging and time-consuming job, but you cannot be effective if you don’t get enough sleep, nutritious food or time with friends and family.
What was the most rewarding experience of the past school year? I obtained seven tickets to see astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speak at Alma College. I worked with my department head and principal to make arrangements to take five African American students to see him speak. These students all had science potential, but often hung back in class. They were very engaged during Dr. Tyson’s presentation, and we observed a shift in their engagement in class the remainder of the year. I felt very lucky to offer that opportunity to those students, and only wished I could have taken all my students.
What doesn’t the general public understand about a day in the life of an AAPS teacher? There are so many layers to what we do in terms of instruction, counseling, remediating, differentiating, communication, assessment, continuing our learning, etc. It’s a very complex job, and we work very hard at it. There are also constant changes in expectations in terms of technology, requirements, teaching assignments etc., which means that we have to be able to adapt quickly to change. Even with all these moving pieces, our students and their learning are always what drives us. I don’t think the general public realizes the many pieces we juggle while creating a positive learning environment to challenge students.
_Jo Mathis, AAPS District News