Mr. Michael Hartman brings a heart for science and a love for the outdoors to Hardin Valley Academy. As sponsor of the Science Bowl, he hopes to instill a curiosity for all things science in the students he teaches. Learn more about this impactful HVA teacher in the interview below!
Adam: Where were you born?
Michael: I was born in Greenville, Tennessee
Adam: Where did you attend high school and what was your mascot?
Michael: I went to West Green and our high school mascot was a buffalo.
Adam: Where did you attend college?
Adam: What did you major in?
Michael: My bachelor’s is in biochemistry and my master’s in science education.
Adam: How many years have you taught?
Michael: I’m finishing up my 12th year.
Adam: What subjects are you teaching this semester?
Michael: Biology, anatomy and physiology.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor?
Michael: I sponsor our Science Bowl.
Adam: How has that been doing the past few years?
Michael: We’re kind of on a downturn. When we first started, we had some second and third place finishes in the state. We’ve been working to get to that point again, but we’re doing good though.
Adam: What’s the key to a successful Science Bowl team?
Michael: I run it very differently than Farragut and Oak Ridge. I feel like most years we’re fairly competitive with them. But the kids’ desire to know science is dwindling. We can practice, but the wealth of science that they ask is just crazy. The desire to know and educational experience is what we are lacking. They’ve had AP bio and AP physics and chemistry, but then there’s a whole section on earth science and energy that we don’t hit on a lot and they miss out on that knowledge. I think our successful years were when kids were naturally curious about science and did a lot of studying on their own. I want the club to be fun. I know other schools meet in the summer, practice, have tryouts and all this stuff. I just want them to come and enjoy science. The competitions are free which is nice. We make it fun and if we win, it’s a bonus. We get together pretty much every Tuesday afternoon and we do about 45 minutes of just quizzing and we just enjoy science.
Adam: Can students join this semester?
Michael: Teams were finalized in November for the February competition but I always encourage students to come to practices.
Adam: What’s your end goal with sponsoring that club?
Michael: For them to embrace their passion for science.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Michael: Mostly because I’ve been doing it since I was 15. I worked at a boy scout summer camp for 14 years or so. I enjoyed it and I found that I was good at it. I think anybody can be a teacher, but I think part of being a very successful teacher is having the personality for it. I don’t think everybody has that part. I was good at it and I enjoyed science. I put the two together and here I am.
Adam: What is your funniest or most heartwarming teacher story?
Michael: I was teaching the freshmen physics class at the time and I had a very bright student who was one of the co-founders of the Science Bowl team. He was arguing with me about Archimedes’ Principle and we settled on making a bet. Because we were using water in the argument, I told him if I was right he had to dunk his head in the bucket of water. Long story short, I was right! That was probably one of the funnier stories. My most heartwarming is about a student named Caleb. He was a special ed student and in my honors biology class. We probably met together three or so times after school every week and his dedication was just unheard of. He had some learning issues and things like that, but his dedication to school was just phenomenal and it always stuck with me. To me, being an honors student has nothing to do with how smart you are. It’s how dedicated you are and how willing you are to work. I think of him all the time and how hard he worked to be successful in the class.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Michael: I’d be a park ranger. No doubt. That was a retirement goal of mine, but I found out that a lot of park rangers aren’t hired older. They want younger people to work through the system. But, I love the outdoors!
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Michael: Her name was Mrs. Lott. She was my high school biology teacher and we are still in contact today. She’s part of the SCORE program for Tennessee and I’ve applied for that. They are a group of teachers that promote education on a more political level. I applied for that and made it fairly far but didn’t get to the end result. I contribute a lot of who I am as a teacher to her. She is who I modeled myself after.
Adam: Which educator here at HVA have you learned the most from?
Michael: I’d have to say George Ashe. He was my assistant principal from the beginning when I interned here. I was a STEM teacher at the time and George was very impactful. He was my evaluator for several years and he gave really amazing feedback. He helped me grow as a teacher. Our science department is amazing as well. It’s what has kept me at Hardin Valley. We are a collective mind.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Michael: Teacher of the Year nomination for Hardin Valley a handful of years back. I have been chosen to write curriculum for the state as well. I wrote the PWC standards for the state of Tennessee and also served on the review committee for the EOC recently when we did the rewrite.
Adam: What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Michael: Being a father. That’s been amazing. My daughter is almost two now and it’s been a world change. Every day she just amazes me and I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of anything.
Adam: What do you wish every parent knew?
Michael: The big thing I think I’d want them to know is that, as teachers, we are truly on your side and we are in this together. That is probably one of my educational pet peeves, but we should always have a conversation before dragging other people in. Emailing principals or superintendents shouldn’t be the first step, because at the end of the day it funnels down to us regardless. I know confrontation is not comfortable for a lot of people, but before you call the law on your neighbor have a conversation. We’re all people too. We’re reasonable. Let’s have a conversation first.
Adam: What do you wish every student knew?
Michael: I just want you to participate and complete your assignments. I just want you to be part of it. In my 12 years of teaching, the only students that I’ve failed are students that don’t do things. Just try, turn things in, and participate. We can find the answers together. We teachers build our classes for success. I feel like I say that, but they don’t ever really internalize that. They are too quick to say, “I can’t do it. I can’t pass it. I don’t know science. I suck at biology.” You don’t, you just need to be in the moment. You have to do it.
Adam: What is the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Michael: I think it’s twofold. I think one it’s making it personal. It’s about personality and it’s about who you are. Teaching to me is not necessarily a job or a career. It’s a lifestyle to who you are. I’ve always said, I think the death of a teacher is when you stop trying to improve from year to year. When I start going to the filing cabinet and just pulling out last year’s worksheet to teach the same thing as last year, that’s when I need to worry. I have to keep growing for the students.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Michael: I think it’s just giving teachers the respect they deserve. A lot can be said about funding and policy and things like that, but we need the freedom and respect to teach how we want to teach. We’re professionals too. I don’t feel like other professions get criticized or told how to do their job. You may make recommendations to your doctor, but at the end of the day, their advice is the word. I don’t find many other careers where the majority of people who make decisions about education are not educators. That just doesn’t make sense to me. To me, that’s a respect thing. They don’t respect us enough to allow us to make the decisions.
Adam: Why do you think some people feel comfortable stepping into the education realm without being in the education realm?
Michael: It’s one of those things where you think you know how to solve the problem sitting on your couch. They’re watching the game show and thinking, I could do that! Everybody’s got an opinion.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom?
Michael: Expo markers and cleaning supplies are always the go-to and that’s for students. I do a lot of white boarding and have the students do a lot of diagrams and drawings. So I would say expo markers, whiteboard spray, colored pencils and such. I can always use those.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Michael: Hiking, camping and backpacking. I love the outdoors.
Adam: Legit camping or glamping?
Michael: No, I’m legit. I’ve done backpacking trips and I’m a tent camper. I’m trying to convert my wife. She very much would like a camper. Maybe one day, but I’m still in a tent. Are we going to get an RV? Maybe one day, but right now I’m still in a tent and hammock.
Adam: What is a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Michael: Candy! Peanut butter is my guilty pleasure. A spoonful of peanut butter every now and then goes a long way. I’m a big fan of Reese’s cups, popcorn and pretzels as well.
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