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Science[Casual Christmas] I am a 17 year old eastern european and I research how well two different bacteria species (isolated from oil refinery) can biodegrade oil and it's aromatic compound. AMA!

Dec 29th 2017 by Keegipeeter • 11 Questions • 3233 Points

I am a principal at an intermediate school (grades 3-5) in rural New York. Friends and family are always asking what, exactly, do I do at my job. I thought it might be fun to have strangers ask me that same question. Throwaway account, but I am real, and ready to shed some light on the illustrious occupation of school administration!

Proof - https://imgur.com/a/vUgl6

Q:

Im a molecular biologist - I could do that!

A:

There’s always that kid showing up in your office multiple times a week. What does this adorable human say?


Q:

All of its byproducts. It even eats cyclical bensene.

A:

I have a handful of "frequent flyers." When it comes to these kiddos, I try to play the long game. I chat with them in the hall and cafeteria, and make sure I get on a first-name basis with the parent(s). I see it as banking karma for when it comes time for tough conversations.

I spent my career in middle schools prior to this position, and I can say I was completely unprepared for the sheer quantity of birthday cupcakes and treats I get on a daily basis. Kids drop by my office all the time to give me a birthday treat. I have a few birthday presents (free book, bookmark, and pencil) that I hand out. I also ask about their birthday plans, gifts, meal, etc., to try and make them feel special on their special day.


Q:

How did you learn English?

A:

I am in my 35th year of teaching at the elementary level and have had both wonderful and horrible principals, but have yet to have a principal ask this simple question of me, “What could I do to help you be a better teacher this year?” I am asking you, “What could I do, if I was one of your teachers, to help you be a better principal this year?”


Q:

I learned english in school, with PC and especially with help of YouTube. English is must-know laungage

A:

That is such a fantastic question! Since I first started as an administrator, I send out an anonymous surey at the end of the year asking teachers what I've done well and where I should focus my efforts for the next year. Responses are generally positive, but they have really helped me hone my craft as well as identify areas that teachers fell I need to improve.

To answer your question: I truly believe that a good principal needs to be able to have his (or her) finger on the pulse of the building. Teachers can help do this by providing feedback and keeping communication clear. Share the good and the bad... Don't be afraid to share success stories about your students, or tales of woe and challenge. I appreciate these anecdotal bits, especially when I talk to parents. Also, I am always trying to predict the future needs of the building. I recognize that teacher have a unique vantage point. That's a huge asset for a principal.


Q:

why do we eastern europeans always start off, "I'm from eastern europe. . ."?

A:

Do kids still stand for the pledge of allegiance? Have you ever had to warn a teacher to not push their political/ideological beliefs in children?


Q:

I think that the "other" world thinks that we can't escape from the past of USSR

A:

Good question. We play the Star Spangled Banner every morning and also recite the Pledge. I have not had any issues with kids being disrespectful or non-compliant. When I was a teacher, the school I worked at had a small Native American population. Those students never stood, which is sort of understandable. Our rule was they were allowed to sit quietly during the Pledge as long as they weren't being disruptive or disrespectful to those students around them that were observing the flag.

I've been fortunate not to have too many issues with teachers pushing their own agendas on students. That kind of thing tends to happen more at the high school level. The closest I came was when I was an assistant principal at a middle school during the Trump candidacy. Most of the Social Studies teachers decided they would rather avoid Trump entirely than wade into that quagmire. (I agreed with their decision, by the way.)


Q:

What does the bacteria biodegrade the oil into?

A:

How much control do you and teachers (the school) have over the curriculum taught to students versus the control the state and federal education departments have? Is that the proper balance of control? Should principals set curriculum or should they simply administrate? Whats the single biggest thing we can do to improve our education system?


Q:

Simpler products. End results should be carbondioxide and water. They are using oil as carbon source

A:

As far as improving our education system goes...

I really think we need to redefine how we measure student success. Grades are arbitrary and kind of stupid when you think about it. How does a number demonstrate learning? It gets even more convoluted when you factor in grading practices that give extra points for doing more work or using poor behavior or late assignments as an excuse to deduct points.

I'm currently really interested in project based learning as well as ways to get students to reflect on learning in meaningful ways I feel these are the first steps to changing grading practices. Maybe I'll do another AMA when I figure it all out, write a book, get rich, and open my own school! =)


Q:

Are these in any way similar to exoelectrogens used in microbial fuel cells that convert a carbon source to (usually) carbon dioxide and water as an end product?

Is the oil in direct contact with the bacteria or is it in a separate chamber as seen in MFCs?

I've also done some research at high school on MFCs specifically so I might just ask you a lot of questions :P.

A:

Is there anything in terms of how education is delivered to students that you wish to change that you may have experienced as a student or even as a teacher?


Q:

Should be. The oil, hexadecane and phenole are in same vial with bacteria(s)

A:

Education has changed dramatically, even in the past decade. There is a move away from teaching information to teaching dispositions and habits of mind. I think this is fantastic. For example, back in the old days, students memorized states and capitals. My 5th grade teachers just recently completed a unit where students had to research why states were shaped they way they are, and why capitals were likely chosen based on geography. This shows the shift away from rote learning to honing students' abilities to think critically and make inferences. I think I would have really thrived if I had been taught this way!


Q:

are there promising similar bacteria that perform the reverse process efficiently enough to replace current extraction and refinery methods (convert waste matter into oil)?

A:
  1. What happens day to day and how many crazy things happen a day?
  2. What are some of the craziest things that have happened?

Q:

As far as I know it is useless for bacteria to create oil, because it needs energy and the majority from oil is created in a long term, because it needs a pressure

A:

A lot of my time is chewed up on mundane things like teacher observations, committee meetings, etc., but one of the reasons why I love my job is because I walk in every morning and I have no idea what my day will be like.

Not sure if this is the craziest thing that has ever happened, but it's fresh on my mind because it just happened a few weeks ago... A 5th grade girl was rooting around in her mom's room and found a blinged-out vibrator. She had no idea what it was, but thought it was cool, so she brought it to school to show off to her friends. The teacher spotted it and managed to run interference before any other kids could ask questions. I didn't call the mom because I figured that would only make things more embarrassing, but I did have an uncomfortable conversation with the teacher (who happens to be younger and non-tenured).


Q:

Hypothetically, what's one thing you would take from elementary school when you were a student and transfer to today's elementary schools? Conversely, what's one thing from today's school that you wish you had back then?

If you could only choose one

A:

Honestly, not a whole lot. I think some people have this romantic notion that things were better in the "old days," but I don't know if that's the case. I was in elementary school in the late 80s. Academically, kids were tracked; access to instructional technology was limited; and there were not as many social and mental health services available for students and families. One thing that has carried over is the traditional grading system. This is something we are slowly altering by way of differentiation and opportunities for academic exploration.


Q:

How does a public school work financially? I assume you get a budget from the city/state, but how is that amount determined (population, yearly negotiation, some success metric?) and is it earmarked for specific items, or do you have the discretion to prioritize?

A:

Great question. Generally, money either comes from local taxes or state funding. The state releases its budget in early spring and that gives districts a head's up on how much they will receive. The remaining balance in the projected budget for the next school year either needs to be made up via an increase in local taxes, or it needs to be reduced. I'm over generalizing, but that's the jist.

At the district level, each building has a budget for supplies, equipment, etc. I have to meet with the superintendent in January each year to walk through how I plan to spend money. He primarily pays attention to the bottom line - my annual budget is around $85,000. If I want a big ticket item (like musical instruments, for example), I can budget for that but it means I may have to go light on another area. Costs for personnel, health insurance, buildings and grounds, maintenance, etc, is handled at the district level.

There are some years when the state funding comes up short and we simply don't want to put up a high local tax increase to vote. This is when programs and staff start getting cut. A few years ago, NYS passed a bill called the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, that caused havoc and decimated schools. We're finally now starting to get back to where we were before the GEA.

In addition, school receive special aidable funding for certain things like textbooks and communication services (this is a federal thing called E-Rate).


Q:

Has a student ever brought a gun or drugs there?

A:

When I was an assistant principal at a middle school, I had the pleasure of digging a baggie of weed out of a kid's shoe. He tried to convince me that it was decorative moss that he bought from a hobby store. That was the only drug-related encounter I ever had.

I've never had a weapons issue either, thankfully. My current district is pretty rural, so occasionally high schoolers will accidentally bring their hunting rifle in their car outside of the school. We take it seriously, but it's not really a big deal. We hold lockdown drills several times yearly so we can be prepared in the event of an armed intruder. It's a sad reflection on today's society, but our kids treat these drills the same way we used to handle fire drills.


Q:

I'm old enough to remember when principals still spanked kids at school. How would you feel if that was still a thing today?

A:

Corporal punishment breeds resentment and doesn't address the root cause of the negative behavior. There is growing support for restorative practices (that's a fun Google search if you're bored) and it's something I'm starting to build into my routine when dealing with behavior problems. It requires a culture shift though. I have some teachers who want me to be the hammer - they don't understand the concept of using a negative consequence as a teaching tool. They just think I'm being "soft" on the kids.


Q:

I heard that the curriculum changes between schools which are found in poor areas compared to schools in rich areas. Is this true?

A:

Yes and no. All schools in the state are expected to shape curriculum to adhere to the state standards. Every school also administers the same standardized state assessments. More affluent schools have the resources to provide teachers with professional development or release time to develop curriculum, or just purchase a boxed program to use with students.

It's not that economically disadvantaged schools (and their teachers) don't care about students or that the teachers aren't as good. It's just that money makes everything easier.