D211 Post: Hoffman Estates Chemistry Teacher Named State Finalist for National Teaching Award

When Hoffman Estates High School Chemistry teacher Tanya Katovich was told she had been nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, it started her on a five-month application processes.  The hard work and preparation  led to her being named as one of five state finalists for the nation’s highest honor for mathematics and science teachers.  The announcement was made during a ceremony at Fermi Lab Nov. 3.

            “To be nominated for the award is a huge honor,” she said. “It was overwhelming, because once you read through what they want, you realize this is not something you are going to finish in a week.”

            Katovich said following her nomination, she had to prepare a lengthy submission about her background and approach to teaching science.  One thing she had to include was a 45-minute recording of her teaching.

            “By the time I started brainstorming on what unit I was going to focus on and what lesson I was going to have them video tape, that took several months,” said Katovich.

            An additional part of the submission was a series of questions which focused on research style and methodology.

            “There is a lot of research that goes into [the question],” she said.  “Not just talk about your philosophy as a teacher, but what research is your instruction based on.”

            Katovich described her philosophy focusing on backward design.  In this structure, she first focuses on what the student should learn by the end of the lesson, then developing the steps to reach that objective.

            Katovich has a unique tie to the award as well.  A 1990 graduate of William Fremd High School, she studied physics under District 211’s first recipient of the award, Robert Grimm.

            Her approach to teaching chemistry involves her students being active participants in the scientific process.  She said has been a long-time proponent for national standards which were adopted by Illinois in 2016.  Katovich began implementing many of the elements of the standards into her classroom in 2013.  She credits a very supportive department for helping her develop her teaching style.

            “Amazing things have happened to me since I arrived at Hoffman Estates High School,” she said.  “I attribute that to leaders who believe in what we’re doing.  I have support from my colleagues who are wonderful to work with.”

            With her acceptance as a state finalist, her packet has been forwarded to a national panel which could take up to 2 years to decide.  She said her competition is fierce.

            “They’re very good,” she said.  “I know at least two of them and they have done phenomenal things for Illinois.”

            National finalists are invited to a White House dinner in their honor where they will meet with the president.  They also receive a $10,000 prize.  For Katovich the biggest benefit of the award is something much more professional.

            “I’ve been told, at that ceremony you get to meet educators who are very motivated just like yourself,” she said.  “It creates a network of professionals who are really motivated to change education and want the best for students.”




Hoffman Estates High School Teacher Tanya Katovich Receives Prestigious Davidson Award

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Tanya Katovich, science teacher at Hoffman Estates High School, was recently presented the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois (CICI) Davidson Award through the Illinois Chemical Education Foundation (ICEF) for her excellence in teaching chemistry.

Tanya Katovich, science teacher at Hoffman Estates High School, was recently presented the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois (CICI) Davidson Award through the Illinois Chemical Education Foundation (ICEF). The award goes to an outstanding teacher who exemplifies excellence in teaching chemistry.

This is the 49th consecutive year that CICI has presented the Davidson Award to recognize teaching excellence. ICEF presented Katovich with a plaque commemorating the award and $3,000 at the ICEF/CICI Annual Scholarship Luncheon. She will be recognized by the Board of Education at its June 11 meeting.

“This award is very special in terms of someone recognizing my potential as a teacher,” Katovich said. “I feel like in our profession, rarely are teachers given a pat on the back, so for someone to say, ‘you are awesome as a teacher,’ meant so much to me.”

Candidates are evaluated on the basis of their innovative teaching methods, their ability to relate theory to practical chemistry, their participation in special programs, and teaching success with their students. Information supplied by each candidate and recommendations from the candidate’s principal or department head determined which nominees were observed during an unannounced classroom visit.

In her application, Katovich said she wrote about some of her work she is most proud of, which include teaching and presenting experiences both in and out of District 211. In addition to teaching at HEHS, some of her recent positions include presenter and participant in the Northern IL Science Educators Conference, co-teacher of a chemistry class at Fermilab and Aurora University, and teacher fellow at Northwestern University.

While she did not receive feedback from CICI regarding why she specifically was chosen for the award, Katovich wrote of several teaching experiences in her application. One major project, on which she is teaching a course in Aurora this summer, is about how to implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS aims to prepare students to be engineers or scientists, and schools in Illinois will need to have an implementation program in place by 2016. While technology continues to advance, she said it is important for teachers to reinvent how they teach.

“These standards are very different than our critical learning standards,” she said. “It requires teachers to get kids to do things hands-on, whether that means designing their own labs, discussing their labs with other people, or writing their labs scientifically. I always like and embrace change, so I would like to take a larger role in implementing NGSS in the future.”

She also discussed her One-to-One teaching style and how it helps her reach students even when they are not in class. She creates YouTube videos, online labs, and utilizes technology to help her students access a great education even when they are not in school. Using iPads, she has connected her students with resources from all over the country. One of the highlights of the school year was an online presentation from a guest speaker discussing the effects of drugs using biochemistry. She believes these applicable lectures and resources help students outside of the classroom, as well.

“I find it amazing how kids respond to these types of lectures,” she said. “I always believed that the ‘don’t do drugs’ lecture never works on teenagers, but the moment they hear what drugs do to your body and how the addiction occurs from a biochemistry perspective, they are captured in the moment.”

These types of lectures and innovative techniques to teach students science all were evaluated in her application. Katovich said the award sums up the whole reason why she is teaching – her students.

“Receiving the Davidson Award, I don’t want to say it’s the pinnacle of my career, but it’s really the highest point in terms of professional achievement that I have attained,” she said. “My students were excited and believed in me. Their opinion of their teacher is sometimes the most important thing because they are the ones that benefit from great teaching.”