Mrs. Sandra Eberhardt-Page on Teaching High School Biology

Author:  Belinda Ongaro

Institution:  University of Alberta

Mrs. Sandra Eberhardt-Page is currently a Biology teacher at Archbishop O'Leary Highschool in Edmonton, Alberta. She attended Concordia and the University of Alberta and holds a Bachelor of Education. She has been teaching for 17 years.


JYI: On behalf of JYI, we are pleased to be here today with Mrs. Eberhardt-Page. She is a Biology teacher at Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton, Alberta.

So first of all, why did you choose teaching?

Eberhardt-Page: Basically I went into the teaching profession on an inspiration from my Biology 20 and 30 Science teacher that I had in High School. I was interested in the “working with people” aspect, and obviously the subject matter.


JYI: Yeah, of course! And prior to that had you considered teaching anything other than sciences?

Eberhardt-Page: No, no, Science was my favorite subject.


JYI: What grade do you currently teach?

Eberhardt-Page: Just Biology 20 Honors and 30 Honors, and we will be offering AP next year.


JYI: And for our American readers, can you just verify what grade level that correlates with?

Eberhardt-Page: So, 20 and 30 would be grade 11 and grade 12 Biology.


JYI: And AP is…?

Eberhardt-Page: AP is First Year University Biology.


JYI: Have you taught any other grades prior to this?

Eberhardt-Page: Yes, so I started out my first four years of teaching with Junior High, so grades 7, 8, and 9, and then High School after that, which is grades 10, 11, and 12.


JYI: Awesome. How did you find that they were different?

Eberhardt-Page: I would say at the Junior High level it’s a lot more about discipline. So, you’ve still got the subject matter there but it’s not such a high level. And a lot of it is crowd control; not as much teaching and explaining, I found. And then as you go up into the upper grades, obviously the maturity level is there, and the students have more of a goal in mind for the most part – where they want to go – and they want to be there, so it’s a difference in attitude I think.  For them, and for me, the subject matter is more in depth and the students are more interested.


JYI: Absolutely.

Eberhardt-Page: It’s just different that way, although Junior High was a lot of fun. You can have a lot of fun with those kids, but it’s on a different level.


JYI: How do you think that modern technology comes into play with that?

Eberhardt-Page: Oh, well now the biggest thing is connecting their devices with what you are doing, right? So there are many different ways that we can do that, whether it is through diagrams in biology, that we can look up things, or doing surveys, or even doing tests now. We can have them do tests on the phone and then it goes into a drop box that I have.


JYI: So staying up to date with technology is very important.

Eberhardt-Page: Yes, absolutely.


JYI: What other key attributes would you say are very essential to the teaching position?

Eberhardt-Page: I think teachers need to be people-oriented, so they have to like to work with people, especially children or adolescents. That’s really important. I think that having a personality yourself is important, so that students see you as a teacher but they also see you as a person, so you have “human qualities”.


JYI: Yeah, that’s important!

Eberhardt-Page: I think that it’s important that you stay up to date in your education. So, I know with science, things change; it’s not static, it’s dynamic, so things are always changing. I think it’s important that you stay up to date and stay current, and that you’re flexible. And teachers have a lot of different roles, so it’s not just delivering information; sometimes you’re a counselor, sometimes you’re an advocate.


JYI: So how are you working to keep you’re education up to date?

Eberhardt-Page: Well, over the last couple years I’ve taken three or four courses through Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta. All science related courses.  Just going to school on the side – usually at night.


JYI: What would you say some of the main challenges are for you as a teacher?

Eberhardt-Page: Probably the workload. It’s not just coming in and delivering a lesson. It’s what goes into the planning for that, and then whatever work you give to students, what you need to take in and mark.  And then just making sure as best as you can that everybody’s successful. A lot of times you get students coming in with different backgrounds, and it can be difficult to get everybody on the same plane.


JYI:  I’m sure that for a lot of people going into teaching, workload would be a major concern, so how do you work to manage that? What would be your suggestions?

Eberhardt-Page: Probably when you are starting out, it’s about doing a timeline. So if you can map out from when you start in September (if you’re semestered) until January. At first really, it’s a day-by-day plan because a lot of it is flying by the seat of your pants when you start. And then you get into more of a weekly and monthly, and then a yearly plan. But that all comes with experience. A lot of times at first you may not know what you’re teaching until you start two weeks prior! And you just find out, “oh you’ve got a job, so here you go!” You’ve got two weeks to plan for that. So yeah, a lot of it is day-by-day to start with.


JYI: Yes, for sure.

Eberhardt-Page: But my advice for anybody new, coming into the profession is to find someone who can mentor you, and that person would take you under their wing and kind of show you the ropes; where you have to go, how you’re going to actually survive. Because I think once you get a couple years under your belt, it’s a lot more smooth sailing from there. It’s just getting those first couple years going. Kind of like going to university, getting the first couple years done, you get your feet wet and then everything is good, right?


JYI: Yeah! So despite all the pressure and the heavy workload, how do you stay motivated? What keeps you committed to your teaching profession?

Eberhardt-Page: I think it’s the students and their interest, and if they have a good experience in my classroom. And a lot of it is too, students that come back and they say “I’m in nursing and it was because of you,” or “I’m in med school and it was because of you,” or “I’m an X-ray tech,” those kinds of stories! I have a lot of students come back and tell me things like that, and that’s motivating.


JYI: Yeah, that must be very gratifying! What would be your favorite topic within Biology to teach? What gets you the most excited?

Eberhardt-Page:  Anything anatomy. It doesn’t even matter what system – any anatomy, because that’s sort of where, in my studies, I spent the majority of my time. But probably my favorite system has got to be the nervous system.


JYI: Cool! So beyond the classroom, how do you keep science a part of your life?

Eberhardt-Page: Well, I think some of that is why I take some courses on my own time. And then other things that I do personally – I attend conferences in the summer, just for interest. So maybe some medical research [conferences], because I really like the medical side of things, so I’ll do that in the summertime. And then just taking students to other events where they would be immersed in that kind of environment, to see if they would like to do something in the health field, or medical field.


JYI: If you could be head of the school board for a day, what would be some of the main changes that you would want to implement?

Eberhardt-Page: I would just say probably in terms of professional development, that that is really put for teachers as a priority. To keep up with what is going on in their subject field or subject matter, to keep students more current.


JYI: To bridge that gap from High School to University.

Eberhardt-Page: Absolutely.


JYI: We already talked about how your extra-curricular involvements relate, as well as your education. Is there anything else that you have undertaken recently through the school or through the University of Alberta that relates to the sciences or to your teaching in general?

Eberhardt-Page: Well I do have a new position here next year! I am moving into more of the career field and getting students ready to take on careers. So my plan with that is to make sure students know what the requirements are and what kind of careers are out there. Obviously for me, you know I have a soft spot for the science side… but still, everything else is important, so that’s sort of where I am going with things. But I will still be taking students on Discovery Days, which is a health science day type of thing (offered through the University of Alberta), so the interest for the sciences is still there.


JYI: Why is science important to you?

Eberhardt-Page:  Science is important because it’s active in your everyday life. No matter where you look, there is some science to something, whether it is what something is made up of, or, especially for me, how our bodies are working, how we interact with other people, personalities – so all of that is science! So that is why it interests me.


JYI: Thank you very much for being here with us today.

Eberhardt-Page: You’re welcome!