Science educator and Curtin Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr Susan Barkdoll reflects on 30 years of teaching, from kindergarten to university level in San Bernardino, California.
“On a cloudy March day in 1992, Emeritus Professor Lesley Parker AM greeted me at a national science teachers conference in Boston, Massachusetts. She told me about the wonderful staff at Curtin’s Science and Mathematics Education Centre [now the STEM Education Research Group] and encouraged me to study a Doctor of Science Education.
As a science educator, you have a grandiose notion that you’re going to change the lives of children but you discover it’s the children and the other teachers that change you.
I’m excited and invigorated by my students. I’ve taught from kindergarten to university, but I enjoy teaching third grade the most. They still believe in Santa Claus. They get excited by microscopes. You feel like you have a mountain of knowledge and they’re so thrilled by it.
This year, I had a student who didn’t want a video game for Christmas – he wanted a microscope! He’s turned it into a verb, saying sentences like, ‘I’ve got to get up early and microscope it!’. Another year, I brought bearded dragons into class and one of my students was so excited she researched their breeding habits. When the female started laying eggs, I called my student and the two of us watched it give birth. It was amazing.
If you’re in my class, you’re in my heart forever. It doesn’t matter if you’re five or thirty-five-years-old: you’re still my kid.
I carry pictures of my former students. I’ll go to their high school graduations. I’ll go to their weddings. In psychology, you learn a child’s personality is formed by the time they’re around five-years-old, so I’ve always thought of them as little people. Now many of them have become medical doctors or forensic scientists. It’s exciting.
When I received the lifetime achievement award, it was difficult not to get emotional because I kept thinking about how my students inspire me. They have overcome so much.
We have a high poverty rate in San Bernardino. Most of my students are on free and reduced lunch. So if I can give them hope it’s going to help them down the road – perhaps reduce the chance of them joining gangs or getting involved in crime.
I’m so grateful to all of those at Curtin who improved the quality of my life, which has enabled me to pass on my knowledge. I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh: I’ve got to go through the Hundred Acre Wood to gather honey and help my friends. There’s still so much to do!”
Name: Dr Susan Barkdoll
Studied: Doctor of Science Education