Editor’s note: The following is part of a monthly series highlighting educators from the Herald-Standard coverage area who have been chosen by officials in their school districts based on their work and dedication to the area of education.
Given Tait Klein’s love of animals, her mother thought she would grow up to be a veterinarian.
Although she chose a different field, Klein still cares for animals in her professional capacity.
There’s the colony of hissing cockroaches in a tank near the door, six parakeets chirping in their cages in the corner, the ball python slithering in a tank by the chalkboard.
Not to mention the various animal mounts hanging on the wall and the stuffed raccoon atop a cabinet.
Animals, both dead and alive, can be found all around Klein’s seventh-grade science classroom at Bethlehem-Center Middle School. It’s a love of animals and biology in general that Klein readily shares with her students as they discuss cells and life cycles and ecosystems.
“I love to make them laugh. I love to make them find humor in anything about science. I love to gross them out. I love to find new things they’ve never heard,” said Klein, rattling off a few of her favorite things about her workday.
For her commitment to education and enriching the lives of students, Klein was chosen by officials at Beth-Center as the district’s Herald-Standard Excellent Educator for 2017.
Klein arrived at the district as a teacher in 1999. Initially setting out to study physics in college, the Clarksville native and Beth-Center grad soon found her calling with biology.
“I realized that teaching about animals and living things was sort of my calling, and this is the environment I love to be in,” said Klein.
“I cannot help being a teacher. I cannot help but learn about living things because they’re always changing, so giving that knowledge out has always been a part of who I am.”
The sole seventh-grade science teacher at the middle school, she’s prefers to be flexible in the classroom, providing loose, fun and informative lessons. She changes her lesson plans and tests from year to year. She adapts to the needs of her students.
“Everything I do from day one to the last day of school is completely different activity-wise than the year prior. I know from previous years what works and what doesn’t work. And of course the students change every year, so something I taught a year ago may not work with the students I have this year. You have to be adaptable.”
For example, Klein recently incorporated a new program into her curriculum through the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Trout in the Classroom program.
A statewide initiative for students in grades 3-12, the Trout in the Classroom program helps students learn about coldwater conservation while raising brook trout from eggs to fingerlings in a classroom aquarium. Last spring, 150 Beth-Center students went to Ten Mile Creek in Marianna to release the fish and help replenish Pennsylvania’s brook trout population.
The experience allowed Klein to teach her students first-hand about things like organisms, food chains and food webs.
“She took that program just like she takes anything — to the nth degree,” said Beth-Center Middle School Principal Amanda Kinneer.
“She doesn’t do anything halfway. She’s full throttle,” Kinneer said of Klein’s willingness to try new things in the classroom. “We’ve had several different initiatives and she’s embraced them and run with them.”
Kinneer said Klein’s interaction with students is something at which she excels as an educator.
“She makes it interesting on their level, whatever level that may be. She gets to know them (and) what their interests are, and she incorporates it into the class and makes students feel like she’s someone they can go to if they have a problem,” said Kinneer.
Klein understands the nature of middle school students. They can be moody; they have issues; on any given day, half the class could be having a bad day, Klein said.
In response, she tries to create a safe and relaxing environment in which students can collaborate and have fun while learning.
“I tell them at beginning of year, when you’re here for 47 minutes (each day), it’s my job to make you feel like I am, in a sense, your parent,” said Klein. “To make you feel at home and to give you knowledge.”