Alice Campbell Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Pleninger has had a lifelong interest in science and math. She became a high school chemistry teacher, and recently she was recognized for her excellence in teaching the subject she loves by earning a place a finalist for the Montana Teacher of the Year award. "It was a huge surprise," the 15-year teaching veteran said about being one of three finalists in the state competition. It was a humbling experience as well to be recognized by her fellow teachers, she said, when she received Havre Public Schools' teacher of the year award last spring. Teaching and helping students is a natural part of her day. "And to be recognized for that is a pretty amazing feeling," she said. "I have a deep appreciation for my colleagues here in the district that have given me this opportunity," she said, praising the opportunities that teachers make available to students despite the rural area. "Carol's very student oriented," said Havre High S c h o o l Pr i n c i p a l J e r r y Vandersloot. "Her door is always open for kids for assistance. She commonly has exstudents coming back to visit." She likes visits from past students, Pleninger said, especially when they're excited about something they're learning in college. Their success is how she measures her success, she said, and it is the most rewarding part of teaching for her. "You can't get that anywhere else," she said. "My job is to give them a chance at their dreams." She helps them succeed through her teaching methods. "Most importantly, (chemistry) has to become real to them," she said. To help students understand, she makes the concepts applicable to their everyday lives. Textbooks can be difficult to understand because of the extensive use of technical terms. She strives to "cut through all the technical language and put it in commonman's terms," she said. Also, she changes the order in the textbook to what she considers logical so that students move from one topic to another more easily. "I've not seen a textbook yet that's logical," she said. Her Advanced Placement Chemistry students perform well on their tests Havre high students have a 92-percent pass rate compared to the 55-percent global pass rate, Pleninger said. "She expects a lot, and she has the repore wi th kids where they work closer to their potential," Vandersloot said. Doing well on the AP exam can give students college credit, Pleninger said, and stand them in good stead for their college careers. Teaching is challenging, but getting students to focus on learning instead of grades is the most difficult part, she said. When students are focused on making a good grade it's difficult "getting them to back up and realize that it's OK to make mistakes ... because until you struggle, you can't grow," she said. "We have to get into the idea that the learning process, that's the key to their eventual success," she said. If students have the tools to think and process information, they can do anything, she said. Pleninger is constant ly involved in the learning process herself, keeping up with changes in chemistry's applications. "The main theory doesn't change, but the application is what is changing all the time," she said. Those changes are good for helping illustrate how chemistry is applicable in everyday life. "This is a field that's alive," she said. "This is not something that's sitting on a bookshelf." She reads and at tends workshops, she said. "(Students) need to see your enthusiasm about it, and the only way to do that is learn yourself," she said. "You have to have that same motivation for constantly improving yourself."