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JMA Teacher Receives 2021 NM Outstanding Science Teacher Award

By Valeria Quezada

Every year, the New Mexico Academy of Science (NMAS) recognizes New Mexico K-12 teachers and informal science educators who provide exemplary opportunities for students’ STEM learning. The Academy honors two outstanding educators each year at the annual NMAS meeting. One of this year’s recipients was Carlsbad’s very own Kerrie Thatcher, who has been teaching at JMA since 2011 and has years of experience as a devoted educator. According to Kelli Barta, JMA Administrator, Thatcher is very deserving of this award for she always goes above and beyond “traditional” education to ensure her students enjoy learning. Barta said, “I am very proud of Ms. Thatcher and this achievement but, awards and recognition are not what make her a great science teacher. Her love and excitement for teaching, her relationships with students and families, and seeing her students excel beyond the science lab classroom are what make her great! I can’t wait to see what is next for her in her teaching journey.”

From a very young age, Thatcher has been interested in science and educating children. Growing up, her mother was a stay-at-home mom who additionally cared for other children. “We had at least 15 kids at our house all the time, which instilled a love of helping children learn,” recalled Thatcher. Born in Midland, Texas, but raised here in Carlsbad, Thatcher attended local schools such as Edison Elementary, Eisenhower Middle school, Carlsbad Junior High, and CHS. At Edison Elementary, Thatcher first became passionate about science. John Redman, her former principal at Edison would come into her class and give them different lessons regarding biology. Through her secondary education Thatcher was involved in many athletics (Soccer, Basketball, and Track Manager). After graduation, Thatcher moved to Odessa, Texas, where she earned an AAS in Sports Medicine and Exercise Science. Thatcher then moved to the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) to continue her post-secondary education. There she was an athletic trainer and earned a BS in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sports Medicine and Training.

Every door was closed for the road to Sports Medicine, as a result, Thatcher turned to education as a means to earn a living. Thatcher said, “The more I worked with the kids and families the more I fell in love with the profession.” She spent 13 years teaching in Odessa Texas. Thatcher started at the Odessa Career Center, then moved to Bonham Junior High where she started teaching special education and coaching 7th-grade girls in Cross Country, Volleyball, Basketball, and track and field. She completed her time at Odessa High School. Where she co-taught chemistry and biology as well as resource science classes to special education students before moving back to Carlsbad.

When Thatcher began teaching, she was highly encouraged to teach solely from the textbook, with a few labs and hands-on activities scattered through the semester. “I remembered hating learning from textbooks because I could not see the how and why of things. In my first four years of teaching, I began to develop my own ideas of how science should be taught. I started using Project-Based Learning and hands-on activities and demos so that students could see how things work,” Thatcher recalled. Thatcher focuses on finding the best learning styles to fit the needs of her students and to help them love learning. She hopes that her students will find the facts, then make their own well-informed decisions and form their own beliefs. As she sees it, science is important because it is in everything people do, from cooking and cleaning to problem-solving and identifying solutions to diseases. With science, students can think of better solutions for tomorrow.

Thatcher also encourages her students to speak up and ask questions or tell her what problems they are having, because more or likely other students are struggling in that area too. Then she encourages her students to work as a group to foster group problem-solving skills. Thatcher added, “Everyone learns at their own pace and should not be forced to fit into a mold that should never have been made.” As part of her teaching, Thatcher utilizes hands-on labs for her students. Thatcher loves watching her students have the “aha” moment when they finally understand a certain concept during their lab. Nothing brings her more joy than seeing her students realize that while science can be difficult, it is also fun. To make the class even more interesting, Thatcher does demos for her students throughout the school year. Some of these demos involve fire or chemicals that only adults with experience can use. During these demos, the students learn new vocabulary and concepts while Thatcher does her science “magic.”

Thatcher attributes her success as a person and educator to Carlsbad and the people from the community who contributed to her growth. “I get my passion for kids from my mom, Nancy. Her passion was feeding kids good food, mine has been teaching them. Educators like Ron and Martha Singleton, and John Redman helped to spark a love of learning in my formative years,” said Thatcher. She would advise students and fellow educators to discover their passion and follow it. She believes that doing what you are passionate about will make the job easier and more fulfilling. Thatcher concluded, “For my fellow educators, I would advise you to love your students, especially the ones that are difficult. Find something positive in each and every student. You may be the one person that makes a difference in their lives and allows them to follow their dreams. Teach the kids first and the content will come.”

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