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Teacher of the Month: Deb Las has a love of science

Science teacher Deb Las works with students before heading up to the media center for a project on June 1 at John Adams Middle School in Rochester.

Name:Deb Las

Family:Daughter Khiara, graduating JM senior, heading to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Brennigan, a JM sophomore going-on junior; a cat (chocolate lynx birman), Cappuccino; and parents, Al and Marilyn Leske of Rochester.

Hometown:Rochester. Here's a fun fact: I went to John Adams, the middle school where I now teach science. I developed a love of science there.

School/grade:Science at John Adams Middle School, Rochester.

What is the best or favorite part of your day?


I don't know that I have a best part of the day, but each day starts out with a lot of activity. I supervise the Science Alive! Lab that is home to a number of animals: geckoes, a degu, Guinea pigs, an African side-neck turtle, cockatiels, and lots of gerbils. Students come in each morning to care for the animals. Sometimes lab time is used as a reward or as therapy. I have heard students say that time in the Science Alive! Lab is the best part of their day, so that makes me happy as well.

What or who inspired you to become a teacher?

I became interested in science at John Adams. I had amazing science teachers! Marv Mikesh, Dave Arlander, and Sam Baily are still active in the community. John Adams at that time was on a modular schedule. I spent many of my open periods in the science resource room. George Lueder was my biology teacher at John Adams. He reminded me of Robert Conrad. I was the only girl in my small-group class. Mr. Lueder really pushed me by comparing the girls' scores (just mine) to those of the boys. At the end of the year, he gave me my biology textbook, since new ones were to be purchased. I still have that book. I had hoped to come back and do my student teaching under Mr. Lueder, but he passed away from cancer before I had that opportunity. I did get to student teach under Dick Norman in the amazing science department at Mayo High School. My first year of teaching was split between John Adams and Mayo High School.

I knew I wanted to go into science. I had never thought about teaching it, however, until in high school I took CAP (Community Awareness Program). I tutored ESL (English as a Second Language) students and helped in the TMH (Trainable Mentally Handicapped) room at John Marshall. At the start, I was pathetic, especially working with students who had handicaps. The class changed me. I still remember my exit conference. The teacher told me that I went from a student that he thought would have to be removed to one of the best students he had ever supervised. Craig Sheets, the CAP teacher, pulled me into the hall after my experiences and asked me if I had ever thought about teaching. I told him I wanted to go into research. He said that I was a people person and should seriously consider if I wanted to spend the rest of my life working in a lab. I took Craig's advice to go into teaching and have never regretted it.

What is one thing you want your students to retain from their days with you?

Pursue your life goals with passion. Keep the doors of opportunity open for yourself. Find a job you want to go to, not one you have to go to because you don't have the skills or knowledge to do what you really want.

Do you have a teaching philosophy?

I love the Rochester School District's Inspire, Challenge, and Empower mission statement. I would just add to do whatever it takes to help each and every student learn. Sometime that doesn't make teachers popular. One year I could not get a student to do any work. One day the assignment was to write one sentence. I decided I was not going to give up on that kid. I had him stay for me for three hours. Finally he wrote out a sentence. As I was congratulating him, he confided in me that it was the first assignment he had completed in his three years in middle school. I shared that with his teachers. The next day the math teacher kept him for 3 1/2 hours. After that, the student started taking out his notebook and working every day. That first day, the young man was very upset with me. At the end of the year, he was excited about the success he was seeing in himself and was all smiles.


What is the most memorable thing that's happened in your classroom?

There are so many memorable moments in teaching. Here are some of my favorites:

• A group of four students won a science competition. They were asked to speak to policymakers about their project that was a hot topic in local news. Each student introduced themselves in a different language and then in English. They challenged the adults to follow their example, for all the students came from very different backgrounds but had learned to work together for a common solution.

• When talking with a student I knew fairly well, I asked him that if I ever had to refer to him as anything but his name, what would he preferred to be called, African American, colored or black. His response was very wise. He said, "It doesn't matter what you call me. What matters is that you use respect when talking to me."

• Once I was being videotaped for instructional purposes. I was checking lab work. A student had the correct answer, but he could not tell me how he got the answer. I sat down with the student while the camera was running and found out he was missing important background concepts. I made him start from the very beginning. As I worked with him, I could see where his thinking was off. Suddenly, real learning took place and his face lit up. He pumped his fist in the air and cheered. He really understood the material versus faking it. At first I thought I had really messed up my teaching video since I had side tracked off the lesson, but then I realized that was really what teaching was all about.

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