Out Teach supporter Laura Newman of Learning by Nature for ME and the School Ground Greening Coalition shared this profile to help us celebrate “Women In STEM” all month long! Thank you Laura, and thank you Brooke!
Brooke Teller is a science teacher leader and STEM Coordinator for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Maine. Brooke has been a science educator for 24 years. She started in Connecticut, then taught Chemistry for 14 years at Portland’s Casco Bay High School. In 2017, she was Cumberland County Teacher of the Year. Now, as a science teacher leader, she is helping the district to build a comprehensive NGSS-aligned and literacy-embedded elementary science curriculum.
“My love of science,” Brooke says, “began like it does for many of our students. As a child, I was naturally curious about the world around me. Gathering rocks while exploring the state forest behind my home in Connecticut, I noticed and wondered why there were large boulders with quartz crystals growing out of them – seemingly dropped in the forest. This puzzling phenomenon (and many others) made me want to know more. My love of biology was fostered by Mr. Malley who taught me in both the 9th and 12th grades. Most notable was the way he shared anecdotes that brought the science concepts to life and made them relevant. So it was no surprise that I went on to study biological sciences at Smith College.”
Brooke believes Smith is a place that empowers women and women in STEM. She got to learn how to prepare specimens, use an electron microscope, and do research on a small cave in Belize – opportunities she is not sure another undergrad program would have provided her. While Brooke collected her own anecdotes to one day share as a teacher, Smith continued to feed her love of science and discovery.
After graduating, Brooke became certified to teach and started her career in that same classroom where she listened to Mr. Malley tell his stories and teach science. “Encouraging and supporting my students as they tackled AP classes and Chemistry,” she says, “I learned how important building relationships is to the success of students.” It was not long before she was taking students on their own adventures to places like Costa Rica and helping them build a library of stories to share. “I learned that exposure and representation are important in showing students, young women in particular, that they can and should be anything they want to be.”
When the pandemic hit, Brooke was asked to quickly pivot and become the district’s Outdoor Learning Coordinator, a challenge which required creative hypothesizing, analytical problem-solving, collaboration and quick footwork – all skills which Brooke put into action, coordinating with teachers, landscape architects, and many others to get physical and informational resources in place. As a result, the district led nationally with their support of Outdoor Learning options and many teachers and students in Portland have benefited – even in winter- from this approach. Learn more at Green Schoolyards America’s Case Study of Portland Public Schools, including a short video where Brooke describes this work.
Leslie Appelbaum, a teaching colleague at Casco Bay High School said, “My appreciation for Brooke Teller as a STEM leader and inspiration for young women began fifteen years ago when we hired her to teach chemistry at our very new (one year old) high school start-up. We were looking for someone who could create expeditions that helped students become immersed in the field of chemistry rather than bystanders of their own learning. We also wanted a person who would contribute to making the world a better place while being of service to the community. Brooke fulfilled all those expectations and so many more!”
“While at CBHS, she created an expedition on environmental superheroes to capture the imaginations of younger students. Her juniors worked with elementary students on ways to help the planet. Then they turned their new understanding into engaging videos to spread the word. Brooke was and is a person who finds the need, fathoms multiple ways to solve the problem and then rolls up her sleeves to do the job: no job too large or small. When the elementary schools eliminated science from their curriculum, she helped my daughter find joy in experiments like the chemistry behind tie-dying. So, I wasn’t surprised when the district leadership turned to Brooke to re-implement and integrate science at the elementary level. We miss Brooke, but she hasn’t turned our back on us completely.”
“Brooke continued to see and analyze then address the most pressing needs during our pandemic. She helped all the schools, at all levels, find ways to teach outdoors. To be clear, Brooke helped create and disseminate lessons for teaching science, but she also found ways to purchase/borrow/make materials so all teachers could teach safely outside. Ever-humble, she quietly organized outdoor cover, seating, packs with paper and pencils. She did everything from creating inspiring videos to driving trucks around the city to ensure that we all had easels. Brooke is a phenomena. “
Portland 4th grade teacher Cindy Soule (Maine’s 2021 Teacher of the Year) said, “Brooke Teller is a transformative leader. Her first role as a teacher leader was in a school that serves a population of students that face many obstacles due to poverty, language barriers, trauma, and race. When I was told I would now be adding science to the list of many initiatives, I was fearful of how I would teach science well. How will I have the time to plan, organize materials, and improve my own pedagogical understanding? Where would the time come from? Certainly not to interfere with math and literacy. “
“Enter Brooke Teller. Brooke’s enthusiasm and love for science shined so brightly I was hooked! Brooke encouraged me and my colleagues in ways that inspired, not only us to teach science, but to believe we could do it well. Brooke listens and responds in ways that show empathy for the challenges we face as teachers and our students face as learners. Brooke provided us with all the tools and resources we needed and if she didn’t have the funds in her budget, she wrote grants! “
“My classroom has come to life in ways that I never imagined possible. Under Brooke’s guidance I have learned to use my knowledge of literacy to embed the skills in units that by design prompt students to figure out the puzzling phenomena of the natural world. Brooke’s guidance and belief in me made it possible for me to harness the power of science. Making this shift has provided all students access to enriching educational experiences that promote vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Teaching literacy skills embedded in student-lead inquiry will foster learning that passes along a generation of students equipped to apply knowledge and solve complex, real world problems. Thank you Brooke Teller for sharing your passion, knowledge, and guiding our school towards STEM!”