September 16, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY — Amy Hysick, a high school science teacher in Syracuse, NY, was awarded the 2017 New York State Teacher of the Year award by the New York State Department of Education, on September 13th, 2016, and has earned the accolades of the New York State United Teachers along with it.
NYSUT is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care, and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO. Hysick, formerly a chemist and micro-biologist who left her profession for teaching twelve years ago, says that change, “was the best decision I ever made.”
Hysick has worked hard to bring innovation and alternative techniques to her classrooms. “Amy Hysick stands out,” says NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. “She brings passion, humor and intelligence to her work. She engages her students and makes science relevant to their lives.”
Hysick has several methods that she employs to foster learning. “I have all sorts of cool labs and hands-on activities so the kids can really experience the information. I teach Living Environments, which is basically biology, with a heavy emphasis on ecology and the impact on the environment. We have requirements we have to fulfill, but in my class we do well above the lab minutes requirement. I also try to present the material in different ways – through whole group direct instruction (lectures), hands-on labs, small groups work projects, and frequent formative assessments that I make on how well the kids are grasping the information, without necessarily affecting their grades. Since children have different ways of learning, I try many different ways to present the materials.”
Hysick also is constantly looking for ways to expand her own knowledge of the best and most innovative methods in teaching. She says she has “tripled or quadrupled” the size of the education library she reads on how to become a better teacher, and takes these “lessons” to heart.
For example, she’s recently adopted the ideas of Dave Burgess, author of “Teach Like A Pirate,” which she says “opened my eyes to a new way to teach.” Within the very first days of school, she asks students to use Play-Doh to create an object that is meaningful to them and will tell others about their lives. One student made an anvil, another ballerina shoes, one a horse, and another a guitar. She then uses the piece to initially have a one-on-one conversation and learn about each student, eventually showing it to the rest of the class. The students then introduce themselves by name and speak more about the piece. “It builds both my connections with each one and their relationships with each other,” says Hysick.
Hysick’s “fearlessness” was also praised, by NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. Hysick identifies this as her willingness to take risks and experiment in the classroom. She shakes things up by, among others, “flipping,” which is swapping out lecturing and homework, where the students watch a video of the lecture at home, and once having done so, are able to complete their assignments in the classroom, where the teacher is present to help and encourage them. Another angle is “having them tell me – here’s what I would like to focus on/do today,” rather than the top down approach, based on what they have been told are the objectives of the class and what they will have to know.
Hysick is aware that some people undervalue the profession of teaching and that teachers don’t always get the respect they deserve. “This is not just a summer job,” she says, “far from it. I teach and take workshops all summer long. During the school year, I’m there at six a.m. through four o’clock. Then there’s the homework to take home on the weekends. [Those who devalue the profession] don’t get it, don’t understand the impact we have on kids.” It’s all worth it to her, though, as she says, “Families are not what they used to be. In some cases we are the students’ strongest support system. We can help them with whatever path they choose.”
Hysick says she is “overwhelmed and incredibly humbled,” to receive the Teacher of the Year award. “It’s much bigger than me,” she adds. “So many teachers are doing phenomenal work. This is a big responsibility I have now, to represent all the New York State teachers.”