Nora Sheppard, a 20-year Merrick Avenue Middle School science teacher, is one of 319 New York teachers whom the state has accepted into its new “Master Teacher” program.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the program is meant to improve STEM education — that is, science, technology, engineering and math — by having the state’s best teachers mentor new and upcoming teachers.
Sheppard applied to the program last fall, and she found out she made the grade last month. She is one of only 42 Long Island teachers, and the only one from Merrick or Bellmore, among the crop of Master Teachers.
The four-year position comes with new responsibilities as well as a stipend of $15,000 per year. Sheppard described the task ahead of her and the program’s other participants as “form[ing] professional learning communities with other STEM teachers.” She will take part in workshops, mentoring, mini-courses and further professional development during the program, which will also run over the summer.
“You just learn so much from sharing with different districts, different people, to develop some problem-based labs, where the kids are working to solve a problem and conducting a laboratory or a series of investigations,” Sheppard said. “It could be a big project, but these kind of things take a lot of time. We do a lot of that here at Merrick Avenue already, because I just have such wonderful colleagues, and we really all work together … This is about getting teachers around the state talking to one another.”
Sheppard stressed several times that she believes the entire MAMS science department does an excellent job educating students, and that more Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District teachers may join the Master Teacher program’s ranks in future years if it becomes more widely known and more teachers apply.
“I view this award really as more of a reflection of the science program at Merrick Avenue and for Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District,” Sheppard said. She already has experience mentoring other teachers in the Central District’s own volunteer program during off-periods.