EF Academy New York’s science teacher, Dr. Jesse Turiel, is very popular among his students who adore his easy personality, teaching style and the various pets around his classroom – from an aquarium of goldfish to a snake tank. So, let’s dive right into what makes this teacher stand out, and while we are at it, get to know his story a little bit better!
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Going back to the beginning, I was born in New Hampshire and lived pretty much my whole life in the northeastern United States. I grew up there until I decided to do my undergraduate at Syracuse, New York. I worked for a year and then moved to Boston where I studied for my Ph.D. at Boston University. After which, I went to Harvard for two years as a postdoctoral researcher and packed up to come here to EF Academy New York.
What did you study in the many prestigious schools that you have attended?
Well, I have studied a lot of things. At Syracuse, I majored in Biology and Geography with a specialization in Environmental Geography. At Boston University, I got a Ph.D. in Environmental Policy where I specifically focused on the environmental and energy policies of China. In my postdoctoral studies at Harvard, I continued my research on environmental policy in China.
Why did you want to study biology and environmental science?
I have always loved learning about a lot of different things and growing up my two biggest passions have been science and politics. I started off at Syracuse studying politics, but at a certain point, I felt a little bit discouraged watching the elections or watching politicians arguing back and forth. Then I decided that maybe I should do science first, and once I understood that part I can go back into policy and politics. During this time, I loved learning about the human body, animals, ecology, and going outside to get my hands on plants, dirt, and all those things.
What got you interested in teaching?
The very first class I taught was an International Economics class as a teaching assistant at Boston University. I remember getting up in front of the class, terrified to have everyone looking at me and waiting for me to speak. But, after a couple of months, I felt like I was starting to get a hang of it and this became something I just loved. For me, taking an idea and trying to figure out how to explain it in a way that people can understand was something that has always been a passion of mine and something that I really enjoy from the very beginning.
What’s your favorite part about teaching? Or anything you dislike?
The best part of teaching, by far, is when I explain a difficult concept and there is some confusion at first, and I try to explain it in a certain way but it doesn’t click. So, I have to be creative like solving a puzzle, and think of another way to explain it, maybe by using an analogy or something students are more familiar with. Then eventually, if I am lucky, I get a little spark of understanding all of a sudden from behind the eyes of that student. It’s super exciting and I love it; it goes from one moment of no understanding to the next – they get it!
However, honestly, I just don’t have enough time to work one-on-one with every student like I would like to. I think if I had the time to sit down with everyone for an hour a day, I am pretty confident that I can get almost anyone to understand everything completely. However, that is not possible in a teaching situation, so sometimes I just get frustrated that there are not enough hours in a day.
What do you love about your students?
I enjoy it when my students ask me questions and not necessarily always about the material. For example, in my environmental science class a couple of weeks ago, during free study time, a couple of my students started to ask me random science questions and their answers led to other questions. So, for forty to fifty minutes, I just sat there answering random questions about science, physics, and biology. That was great. I love to see the curiosity in my students beyond just the material, rather than when they try to understand how the world works.
What inspires you to use the outside environment as your classroom?
We live on campus with 97 acres of beautiful woods, streams, and ponds. In a way, I would be crazy to not take my class outside! For my environmental science class, there is no way you can learn about the concepts without being outdoors some of the time. It’s one thing to learn about sampling, populations, and calculations of species biodiversity, but it’s another to go out to the field to feel it and see it.
What’s one thing that is different about teaching EF Academy students than students at other schools?
Here, we have students from over 75 different countries all in one place. So, it’s really refreshing because, in everything we talk about, there is always somebody from that area of the world that can offer their unique perspective. So, if I talk about inequality in Cambodia or Bangladesh or policies in China there is always someone in class who can chime in and contribute. It adds more perspective when we talk about global issues.
Is there anything you love about teaching at EF Academy specifically?
Other than the student body which is very diverse and high-achieving, I do love the freedom EF Academy gives with its curriculum. Obviously, for the IB curriculum, I have to stick to a specific track and for my ninth and tenth-grade biology class we have some foundational skills and ideas that we want the students to learn. Aside from that, I can choose my own course to guide the students through which is really fun and not something offered in public or any other school.
Finally, how much time do you spend on your PowerPoint presentations?
I make all my PowerPoints from scratch and spend over twelve to fifteen hours a week just making them!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to emphasize that I not only admire the academic commitment of my students but also the initiative and curiosity of so many of them, and how they go beyond academics and get involved in global and community issues.
There you go! A little insight into one of EF Academy’s best science teachers who goes above and beyond for his students, from giving endless time and effort to making over ninety detailed slide presentations for class. Dr. Turriel – we are very lucky to have you here with us!