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Teacher of the Year Eric Kincaid: Always Learning

Name: Eric Kincaid
Award: 2008 West Virginia Teacher of the Year
Teaches: Biology
Teaching Since: 1995
Studying at Walden: Doctor of Education (EdD)

For some students, science education begins and ends in high school. For others, however, it’s a course of study that knows no beginning or end.

For 2008 West Virginia Teacher of the Year Eric Kincaid, science was something that was part of his earliest days, even if he didn’t use that word for it. “I was always collecting specimens in middle school,” says Kincaid, a biology teacher at Morgantown High School in Morgantown, West Virginia. “‘Specimens’ is what my mother called them. I’d come home with little bugs and rocks and stuff like that in my pocket.”

Early on, this helped him see that education was something larger than just what happened at school. Learning could clearly take place anywhere, at anytime, something Kincaid says he learned from his grandfather who, although he had to drop out of school at age 13 to work, continued to educate himself. “He read everything he could and learned everything he could,” says Kincaid, noting his admiration. “His knowledge really blows me away even though he only has an eighth grade education.”

In his classes, Kincaid tries to help students see that education isn’t always about a scholastic context. He works to show them that scientists are doing research outside of the classroom walls all the time. What’s more, they’re often doing research that looks a lot like the genetic work he does with his AP kids, analyzing DNA, trying to diagnose genetic disorders, and even manipulating the genome.

“I like finding new articles or videos, because the kids really like getting those news stories. I like showing the kids what the potential is. A couple of times I’ve found things that were published the day I showed it to them, so they can see it’s not just coming from their text books, this is information that is coming up all the time,” he says. “I also want to try to get kids to get the information on their own, to teach them how to use the tools that we have that will allow them to get information, and remember it, and use it, and apply it. If I can do that, then I’m pretty happy, because the amount of information we’re getting now is amazing. There is no way you can actually remember it all. If we can give them the tools to get information on their own, then they have a better chance of being successful.”

Of course, there’s also the learning that goes on for students after they leave his class, that’s the kind of learning that may end up taking students much deeper into science than their teacher will ever go. For Kincaid, a student who can outdo him is a dream come true.

One of his favorite memories of teaching involves a very reserved pupil who had just lost her father and didn’t seem engaged in class. “It was amazing what her academic ability was, but she was very quiet, never said a whole lot,” he says. “That was just as I was starting to try to teach genes and different genome studies, and she ended up taking what I taught her and going into that research on her own.”

Today, that shy, reserved student is working on a combined MD/PhD at Harvard University. “She is doing cancer research, she wanted to fight the cancer that killed her dad,” says Kincaid. And now, she’s the one offering words of encouragement: “She writes, ‘Keep up those genomic studies, keep looking at those techniques and all that, because that’s what enabled me to get ahead,’” he says. “That’s why I’m here now.”