Science Teaching: Growth Only Happens Outside Your Comfort Zone


Many times when I tell people that I am going to teach high school, they give me a look of horror. This look actually becomes amplified when I tell them that I am planning on teaching biology and chemistry. I have heard things like, “Why would you want to teach high schoolers? They are nasty”, “Man, those high schoolers are going to eat you up.”, “Why don’t you go into a field that pays more?”, “Watch out for the kids!”.

These statements make me a bit uncomfortable, but sometimes they make me just laugh out loud! For the record, I know that teaching high school is hard. I know that it is not a walk in the park, I know that you do not make as much money as I teacher.

What keeps me going is seeing those bright eyes and glowing faces as you walk into the classroom, seeing how you have the power to make someone’s day and allow them to learn something new, seeing that “tough” kid come through and confide in you, and being able to talk with students and provide them with support. These are the reasons that I choose to be a teacher.

And for the record, high schoolers are not scary, they are some of the most AWESOME people that I know!!!

Teaching high school is tough. Teaching chemistry and biology is tougher. Chemistry, in particular, is really hard for students to understand. I get it, I have been there. All those nasty equations and stoichiometry can give you a headache. Biology is no walk in the part either. “What is evolution?”, “Why do we need to know this stuff?”, “How do I explain mitosis vs. meiosis?”. These are some of the concerns in biology as well.

I picked these subjects because they are indeed important, but also because I want to fascinate people with science, rather than bore them. I want them to learn something new and get the help they need to succeed in chemistry or biology, as well as their adult lives. Teaching high school can be tough in many aspects. In this post, I will focus on 3 areas of difficulty in science and give some tips to combat the difficulties.

As you see from the title of this post, you cannot expect to grow unless you get out of your comfort zone. Teaching is definitely not my comfort zone! It is, however, a place that I have grown and blossomed as a person and as a caregiver. I was terrified when I started teaching. It was no longer like teaching in my bedroom to my stuffed animals. This was real.

I had to escape my comfort zone to become a better teacher and you will have to as well. The three areas that this post will cover are student engagement, classroom stage fright, and teaching students to be resilient. These are things that I have found tough about teaching.  I will go over each topic and provide tips on how to achieve success in a biology and chemistry classroom.

Let’s begin!


Student Engagement:

To tell you the truth, I had no idea what this was when I started teaching. Dr. Ann Mackenzie’s class changed this completely. I used to think that teaching was just about lecturing and giving work. Boy, was I wrong! Students need to actually be engaged. This means that they are able to become enthusiastic about a topic that might be tough for them, they feed off the enthusiasm of the teacher, and they are doing actual activities that allow them to build their own knowledge and hold onto it. I have taught a class where kids were not engaged. They didn’t listen or care what I was saying. I learned from my classes, that engagement is key. Kids that are engaged have positive body language, have their eyes on you, and are excited about what you will do next. They will be actually working on important projects that will help them to develop their own knowledge about a subject. This will also help with student motivation. If they are in a class where they are engaged, they will be motivated to do their best!

Below is an image of engaged high school students!

Tips for Increasing Student Engagement in the Chemistry and Biology Classroom:

  • Do experiments and activities that allow students to model how science works in real life. Let them design experiments and conduct them the way that they choose.
  • Link science topics to real life and movies. For example, link mitosis to the Wolverine, from X-men, and his healing powers.
  • Be enthusiastic about a subject. Show them how important a subject is.
  • Do experiments in front of the class that show the principle you are trying to teach. I did an experiment in field, showing the separation of acetone and water when salt is added.
  • Do not be afraid to travel to the margins and allow the class to be student-centered.
  • Give students choices in the classroom.
  • Walk around the room and make eye contact, use body language that show that you are excited.
  • Have many activities planned rather than busy work. Busy work doesn’t do anything.
  • Have students decide what they are curious about. When starting a new lesson, have the students write down a list of things that they want to explore.

Classroom Stage Fright:

I taught in a classroom once. When I was teaching, I got nervous. My hands started shaking, my voice trembled, and I felt like I was under attack. That night, I went onto the computer to look it up. How did a group of 13-year olds make me feel like I was being attacked by a saber tooth cat? I realized that I experience classroom stage fright.

This happens to many teachers, especially new ones. It is completely normal, but I want to address it in this post. Classroom stage fright is when a person goes into fight or flight mode because they feel like they are vulnerable. This causes the nervous system to go into panic mode and causes a lot of unwanted bodily symptoms (shaking hands, trembling voice, etc.). I will discuss various ways to combat this in a classroom setting. This will allow you to teach to your full potential and to gain confidence. This will help you provide care and knowledge to the students.

Ways to Combat Classroom Stage Fright:

  • Before teaching, give yourself room to be alone and to give yourself a pep talk. Take deep breaths and think about times that lessons went well and how proud you were of yourself.
  • Remember that this is normal and it will decrease in intensity after you start teaching.
  • Make sure you are fully prepared for the lesson the night before and have all supplies ready.
  • When teaching, take breaths to prevent losing breath.
  • Focus on one student at a time in the classroom and make believe you are just having a conversation with them.
  • Take deep breaths and slow yourself down when teaching.
  • When the students come into the room, distract yourself by discussing how their day is going and how they are doing. This works wonders for me.
  • Remember that there are no “perfect” teachers and that it is your job not to be perfect, but to reach the students.
  • Make an announcement to the class. Tell them that you are nervous that they will not understand the material. Tell them that it is very important. Ask them to help you by participating and letting you know when they do not understand something. Being honest will go a long way.
  • Talk to a teacher friend or a principal. They are there to make teaching easier and keep you on track.

Here is an article that I have found on combating classroom stage fright! It is from Edutopia!

Teaching Students to Be Resilient

Many students come to you with trauma that they have experienced at home. Mine, as a student, was more internal, but many students deal with external trauma as well. Trauma can be anything from fighting parent to homelessness. It can be having a parent incarcerated or having a parent with mental illness. Many students witness these things every day. They are constantly in fight or flight mode. This causes them to struggle with learning.

It zaps their motivation as well. It also makes them experience negative physical symptoms from the chemicals released during trauma. These students may act out, be less motivated, and give you a hard time. Remember, though, you have the power to help them! Here are some ways to teach students to be resilient or bounce back after trauma. Resiliency allows them to be successful in school despite their circumstances and also allows them to find strength within themselves.

Tips to Increase Resiliency in Students:

  • Do not judge a student based upon what a previous teacher has said about the student. They are in your classroom now and you have the ability to reach them.
  • Listen to each students needs and address them in any way possible, within reason.
  • Allow students to sit in your room to eat lunch with you and to discuss any problems that might have arisen in their lives.
  • Ask students how they are doing every day and be willing to listen
  • Have a “safe zone” for students who need time by themselves to calm down
  • Instead of saying to a student, “I know how you feel.”, say “That must be hard, remember that I am here to help”.
  • Show students that you are on their team and wish to help them. They will usually respond well to that.
  • Expect great things from students, but if they are struggling, make accommodations based upon their needs.
  • Allow students freedom to be creative in their assignments and to pursue things that they are interested in.
  • Allow extra time and accommodations for students. Still have high expectations, just meet them where they are.
  • Have prescription pads ready for students to tell their needs to you on paper if they don’t feel like talking.
  • Allow students to have fidget toys, silly putty, or other calming activities to do when stressed.
  • Look out for yourself as well as the student. Do not get depressed when talking to them.


These are three things that could present challenges to new teachers. I have combat all of these three areas in my student teaching and in my volunteer work. I have realized that teaching is not an easy job. Sometime you have to get out of your comfort zone. This is where true growth happens, as you can see. There are many ways to combat these issues and make your classroom a place of refuge for you and your students. Always remember why you came into this field and your accomplishments in the past. Learn from your mistakes and allow yourself to grow!




  1. Hello Pete,
    Thanks for responding to my blog post. This quote that I have started with has really changed my life and has allowed me to grow as a teacher and a person. If you do not escape your comfort zone, you cannot grow. That is sad, but it is the truth. You can either be comfortable or confident, but not both. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I have seen this work in my life many times. I hate getting in front of our class, but I love getting infront of students. I do feel nervous, though, partly because of imposter syndrome. These tips that I have included in this post are things that helped me overcome classroom stage fright. I hope they help you and others.

    Delaina (:

  2. Delaina! The title of your post says it all. I’ve found in my experience that the more afraid I am to do something, the better it is for me to jump in and face it. I don’t tend to have much trouble with presentations, but getting in front of a class of students can be very intimidating. Thanks for the tips about getting in the zone and psyching yourself up so you can be ready to face the classroom!


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