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Teacher blends love of teaching, science

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PLEASANT GROVE — Evan Whitaker was riding a college-course track bound for a doctorate degree in biochemistry when a small detour derailed his plans.

He ran into a classroom. And his life changed direction.

"I thought I'd get my teaching certificate just in case," Whitaker said. "I went and did my student teaching. I had so much fun. And, well, here I am."

Since, Whitaker has led science classes at Pleasant Grove Junior High School. For 17 years, he's stretched his imagination and skills to create challenging and fun lessons.

But Whitaker says nothing could have helped him improve his teaching savvy more than completing a national certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Only 13 other Utah teachers and 16,000 educators nationwide have received the honor. Educators who earn the certificate are considered "master teachers."

To complete the certificate, he examined how he interacted with students, parents, colleagues. The national program forced him to scrutinize the way he oversaw his

classroom in "excruciating detail."

"I'll never be the same," he said. "I got a better handle on every aspect of teaching."

Whitaker says the art of teaching in the 21st century has changed from earlier eras. Teens at the Alpine District school have changed the most, he says.

While he's always had large classes and budgets are still meager, students have vastly different motivations to succeed.

A threat to be sent to the principal's office doesn't carry as much weight nowadays with his seven classes of about 35 students each.

Students of 2001 are bright, though. They are expected to know much more at an earlier age, he said.

"There are higher expectations," he said. And, therefore, he says, the bar is set high for those charged with teaching them.

The completion of his national certificate is just one way to help students along the educational journeys, he said.

Indeed, there have been days he's thought about leaving the teaching field for a more lucrative job as a chemist. Such thoughts didn't last long, however.

"I do this because I love teaching kids," he said. "You have to love it. You can't do it unless you love it."

E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com