To be acknowledged by her peers as the 2013-14 Outstanding Biology Teacher of Illinois could only be described as an exciting moment for North Shore Country Day School teacher Jennifer Pfannerstill.
The award, given to Pfannerstill by the National Association of Biology Teachers, commended her dedication, commitment, involvement and teaching pedagogy.
Last year, Pfannerstill took her students to the Field Museum in Chicago. The students took hundreds of photos of various organisms during the trip, and Pfannerstill challenged them to create a project with those photos.
The large open space at North Shore, known as “The V,” where two large staircases meet, was turned into an academic space known as “The Tree of Life.”
“They put all their pictures from the Field Museum and classified them into all the groups they should be in,” Pfannerstill said. “That was the activity I did for the award.”
Pfannerstill recalls standing on her deck when she received an email informing her of the award, which came as a pleasant surprise.
“I said to my husband, let me read you this sentence,” Pfannerstill said. “It was a sentence where the Association was so excited about what I was doing with the students. It said what I was doing with the kids was most important.”
The Association was particularly impressed with her commitment to her students’ learning process, and how she “brilliantly leads them toward a higher level of learning as they construct explanations and unify their understanding through the use of models and inquiry.”
When she submitted her application video, the second year North Shore teacher took a different approach. Instead of filming herself lecturing, she filmed her students during the “Tree of Life” activity.
“It was really enlightening,” Pfannerstill said. “We wanted students to ask other students to explain “The Tree” to them. The Committee really liked that it was student driven, it had outreach to the community and they liked the fact that we didn’t direct them. They had to figure out the pattern and relationships.”
As the oldest of four siblings, Pfannerstill grew up in northern Wisconsin to a family full of educators. She initially pursued a pre-medical degree, but the thought of teaching drew her back to the family profession.
“Those teaching roots came back to me,” Pfannerstill said. “Sharing stories from all my family members drove me to education. That was clearly the right choice.”
Pfannerstill attended Lawrence University, but later transferred to Olivet Nazarene University to finish her education requirements. She then taught in northern Wisconsin for 18 years, but came to North Shore during the 2013-14 school year.
“I love teaching and coaching and I really wanted to broaden my experience and find a place that supported teachers to really think outside the box,” Pfannerstill said. “I looked all over the country to find a place that was a good fit for me and where I was a good fit for them. I like the size of the campus, getting to know the students and being a part of their lives in multiple ways.”
In addition to coaching volleyball, Pfannerstill spends her summer working in the AP Biology world. For three weeks every summer, she helps write the AP Biology test that thousands of students take every May, while assisting with the grading of nearly 215,000 exams.
“That’s a bigger classroom for me,” Pfannerstill said. “Every single day, whether it’s summer or not, I’m teaching in some way.”
With another school year ready to begin, Pfannerstill is happy to be in a place which allows her to follow her passions.
“North Shore is so awesome,” Pfannerstill said. “They are incredibly supportive of teacher opportunities to do things like this. They realize those opportunities not only help their teachers grow, but also their students.”Tags: North Shore Country Day