Standing at the front of the classroom with a large screen projecting his PowerPoint presentation, Noah White ’22 speaks with ease while discussing the differences between maritime and continental air masses to a group of sixth-grade science students at A.A. Kingston Middle School.
To the outside observer, White appears to be a seasoned teacher, easily capturing the attention of the young cohort of middle school students, but he’s still a student at SUNY Potsdam completing student teaching as part of the College’s BA / MST program in secondary science education.
“I definitely feel like I made the right choice coming to Potsdam, both academically and community-wise. It seems very tight knit to me.”
-Noah White '22
“I love teaching. My favorite part is when I see a kid get that light bulb moment. Nothing is more exciting than when you try to explain something, and they just get it. It’s very gratifying. Even if they don’t remember what I taught them, if I help them have a better day, or help them feel better about themselves in some way, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” said White.
In the spring of 2021, White completed his first teaching practicum with SUNY Potsdam alumnus David Vroman ’83 & ‘91. In the fall of 2021, he moved to a chemistry classroom at Massena High School where he worked with another SUNY Potsdam alumnus, Randy Frieman ’91 & ’92. “From what I understand with the practicum, most people sit and watch the teacher, and they try to learn. I was very fortunate with both teachers that within the first couple weeks of doing a practicum, I was teaching. It made the transition to student teaching very easy,” he said.
This semester he returned to both classrooms for more extensive in-person student teaching opportunities where he has been creating lesson plans and taking the lead at the front of the classroom. This month, White will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, as well as with a master’s degree in education—the combination of which will allow him to teach middle school or high school science immediately after commencement. “It’s a great program. SUNY Potsdam gets you into the schools right away. The education faculty are always available, always there to give feedback, which for me has been huge. They definitely prepare you for teaching. Everything I’ve learned I feel like I’ve used in the classroom,” he said.
White had no intention of becoming a teacher when he graduated from high school. He was accepted into Alfred State College’s engineering program, and although he was passionate about pursuing a career in a STEM field, something was missing. He decided to take a year off, and found a job at Hillside Family of Agencies, a non-profit organization in central New York where he worked as a behavioral support worker.
“Instead of being court ordered to go to juvenile detention, they went to our campus,” White explained. “I made sure they stayed safe, I taught them positive coping skills, and I got certified in TCI, therapeutic crisis intervention. I was 20 years old when I did that, and I was by far the youngest person that worked there, but it made it easy for me to relate to the kids because they were teenagers.’”
While there, he also worked as a teaching assistant at the school, and discovered an unknown passion for sharing his science knowledge with his students. “I really enjoyed it, and that steered me towards where I am now, he said. “I talked with my mom, who is a teacher (SUNY Potsdam alumna Karen White ’91), and she was like, ‘‘I think you’d be great at teaching, and if you want to teach, go to Potsdam.’”
In the spring of 2019, he transferred to SUNY Potsdam to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry, as well as his master’s degree in education. “It was a really easy process. They got a hold of me quickly, I got up here for a tour, and I loved it,” he said. “It’s a great community. I’ve always felt like I was welcome no matter what I was doing or where I was going, which is really nice.”
Over the past three years, White has been bouncing back and forth between the chemistry labs in SUNY Potsdam’s Stowell Hall to his education classes in Satterlee Hall—building a strong foundation in the sciences and the skills to effectively teach it his students in the future. “Classes sizes are really small. When I started taking chemistry courses up here, there were between eight to 15 students, which was really nice for that one-on-one work,” he said. “I was missing a couple courses, and the professors worked with me so I could graduate on time. All the professors are super available, and they’re willing to meet with you even if outside of office hours.”
Back in Vroman’s sixth-grade classroom for his final student teaching placement, White speaks to the students about climatology and earth sciences. But this is no ordinary lecture with bored teenagers staring at the wall. Each of his students are equipped with Chromebooks, and as White cycles through his PowerPoint presentation, they type questions and answers on their keyboards, which are in turn projected on the large display at the front of the classroom for further discussion.
“A lot of the work I do in the MST program has been preparing lessons. I feel like I got really good at lesson planning,” he said. “Kids love technology, so if I can figure out a way to incorporate technology, I will. A lot of the things that I use I picked up from other teachers, and other presenters.”
White has now completed all of his New York State teaching certifications, and is in the process of applying for full time jobs. His plan is to teach middle school or high school science for a while, and then return to SUNY Potsdam to pursue his Advanced Certificate in Educational Leadership. “I’d like to be a principal, that’s my dream position, and Potsdam has that program. It’s also online, which is nice, so I can keep teaching while I work on that,” he said. “I definitely feel like I made the right choice coming to Potsdam, both academically and community-wise. It seems very tight knit to me.”
To learn more about the Department of Chemistry, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/chem
To learn more about the Teacher Education program at SUNY Potsdam, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/teacher-education
Article and photos by Jason Hunter