Originally created 02/22/01

Chemical society rewards teacher



Rebecca Potter is proof that the best teachers aren't always found in the suburbs or area magnet schools.

Ms. Potter, the American Chemical Society's Outstanding Chemistry Teacher for the Savannah River Section, teaches at Lucy C. Laney High School.

She received the 2001 award at a reception Tuesday night at The Snug Tavern and Grill in Augusta, but she earned it in the classroom.

"She doesn't stand up there and just lecture; she's really excited about it," said Connie Hayes, a junior in Ms. Potter's chemistry class. "She likes to get involved."

Part of the reason Ms. Potter won the award - one of just 190 given to chemistry teachers across the nation - is the creative methods she uses to get students interested in learning.

She says the best part about teaching is showing other people what you know because you want them to know it, too. "But the toughest part is convincing the students that they do want to learn it."

So Ms. Potter, 44, incorporates papier-mache into her lesson plans, and the students craft anatomically correct human hearts.

Or she pushes the desks and chairs aside, gets the students on the floor and makes them do stomach crunches to help them understand where certain skeletal muscles are located.

"They weren't just regular situps; they were specific crunches to isolate different muscle groups so they would feel the muscles that they're learning about," Ms. Potter said. "You can't just imagine that we have one layer of muscle."

It's creative lesson plans such as these that make her principal, Quentin Motley, say hewishes he had a hundred Ms. Potters in his school.

"I think it is her passion that makes her special," he said.

Ms. Potter, who graduated summa cum laude from Missouri's Park University, said she never planned on being a high school chemistry teacher.

She said she sort of fell into the job four years ago, after reading and hearing about how the science test scores of American students were dropping like mercury in a cold thermometer.

She had been substituting in the Augusta area and inquired with former Laney Principal Rush Utley about a permanent teaching position. He hired her.

And Ms. Potter said her previous job experiences - everything from teaching English as a second language to working as a civilian translator for the military in Europe to collecting rare plants in the Amazon rain forests for the Smithsonian - help her keep students interested in learning.

Ms. Potter, who is fluent in German, grew up on a U.S. military base in Germany and graduated from Augsburg American High School before coming to America.

"I've lived a charmed life," she said.

Besides teaching biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology, Ms. Potter provides after-school tutoring for her students and is the women's varsity soccer coach. On weekends, she teaches in the Upward Bound program at Paine College.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.