Kindergarten Educator, Oakridge Elementary
I would like to remind anyone to remember that they are multifaceted and do not need to conform to expectations or stereotypes.
Jennifer Burgin, NBCT
What do you do?
I teach Kindergarten learners through integrating exploration experiences across curriculums. By using diverse and established explorers as mentors, I help shape their identities as student explorers!
Why did you choose this field?
I was an English major at Texas A&M and my content classes left me feeling empty. I wasn’t sure how I could make a difference within that field. Then I finally listened to my mother, who had told me she thought I should go into Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Elementary Education. She had watched me work with young children before and said I could leverage these natural talents with training to help shape young lives. Once I was brave enough to visit the Education Department representatives to inquire about a change, I felt immediately at home! Ever since I’ve been sold on teaching young learners, finding mentors who are further along the path from me, accepting their wisdom, and seeking mentees who I can pass that wisdom on to!
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
In 2017 I was named a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow to Galápagos. I went on an expedition as professional development and began to see humanity’s connection with nature in a new light. Before this expedition, I saw myself as an “indoor cat.” The outdoors was for rock climbers and jungle researchers - not educators, right? How wrong I was! Now I realize nature is for ALL, and I want young learners to see nature as a part of their lives, something that nourishes them, connects to all we do, and is worth our protection.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love teaching young learners about the world and how it works. Kindergarteners are ready to problem solve and become their own people. The world is open and welcoming in their perspectives. When they are presented with a problem, they do not start with what is impossible. Instead, they think of all solutions, ones adults might scoff at or dismiss, and encourage others to join them in problem solving. It’s a joy to spend each school day helping them amplify their voices in learning and problem solving.
Best advice for next generation?
I would like to remind anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, background, and other labels, to remember that they are multifaceted and do not need to conform to expectations or stereotypes. I remember my dad encouraging me to pursue a science field after I told him I was switching from English to Education; it was early in my sophomore year in college and I was home visiting him. We were swimming together and I floated my raft towards his and said, “Daddy, I love science. I am going to share my love of science with young children, and do amazing things with them. I will still pursue science, but in my own way.” Later in life I would learn that just because I am an elementary educator does not mean I am not also an explorer. Identifying as an #EducatorExplorer allows me to get outside and do things I never thought I was capable of doing, and sharing this with my learners. I am finding so many other educators who also identify as #EducatorExplorers, and together we are changing how we teach and present learning to our amazing students. I’m excited for what is next for me - I never stop expecting to change and grow!
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
One of my favorite websites that supports #EducatorExplorer modeling with young learners is TheKidShouldSeeThis. Creator Rion Nakaya is innovative; she took the idea of finding meaningful science and exploration centered videos that might not be FOR kids but are safe to use WITH kids. I often go here for inspiration or write to her on Twitter asking for help with finding a video to anchor introducing teaching content. One of my favorite videos is called Glas (1959), which won an Oscar! It’s so jazzy and fun to view. I used this film with my 2nd graders to show that solids, liquids, and gases are all around us. We watched the video once looking for examples. Then we watched again using a “States of Matter” hunting guide where we could jot down examples we saw of each phase of matter. When young learners shouted, “The glass blowers’ cheeks puff up with air, and that’s a gas!” I knew I had done something right!