“I always loved working with people, and hearing people’s stories was always something that was wonderful to me,” says Dr. Erin Lark. In her former career helping families find stable housing, stories exposed Dr. Lark to new perspectives, expanded her empathy and solidified her belief in the collective power to create change.
Now Dr. Lark is in the third year of her current chapter: teaching sixth- through 12th-grade science at Vancouver iTech Preparatory. While science is her discipline, she is like every great storyteller unbound by the constraints of a single genre.
“I have students in many grades and in several classes in our fantastic project-based learning school, where we really focus on using [science, technology, engineering and math] to guide us through activities, real-world problems,” she explained. “We bring in the humanities to give students these really complex tasks to work on.
“We have students wrestling with what’s at the height of everyone’s concern today,” she continued. “You will see students talking about things like pandemics, discussing things like human rights. Having that ownership, responsibility and trust given to them by their instructors is something that is so wonderful to see.”
She also recognizes that the story of iTech’s success is a shared one featuring her colleagues. “Our influence and the type of large-scale fun we’re able to have with learning is only possible working together,” she said.
Last November, Dr. Lark became one of five state-level finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Now she is the 2021 Teacher of the Year for the Educational Service District 112 region and is in the running for the state title.
But as much as awards are appreciated (and deserved), they are annotations to the story. The real heartbeat of her work is a process that is as much about her own learning from and collaboration with her students and colleagues as it is about guiding young minds. “I love teaching because I like not having the answers, and I like having the daily faith in the future to have those answers,” she said. “It’s wonderful to witness and be a part of students solving the problems of today, imagining the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow and taking flight with that.”