By: Lillian Zhao
On October 13, AP Chemistry Teacher Sai Kumar received a Stanford Teacher Tribute Award. The accolade recognizes the unique contributions of one educator in the educational or personal growth of incoming StanfordUniversity students. Stanford Freshman and MSJ Alumnus Rebecca Wang nominated Kumar for the award.
“From her good-natured ‘What’s up?’ as I walk into the room to her careful oversight of our lab group as we tackle a particularly tricky procedure, she has inspired me to challenge myself to pursue new heights while gaining a deeper appreciation for chemistry,” said Wang. When asked what is most rewarding about teaching, Kumar replied: “Teaching is the genesis for all other professions. My motivation to grow in my teaching career is driven by the energy and the creativity students bring to the class.”
Kumar, who developed a strong interest in science and teaching at a young age, worked as a software engineer in the IT industry for eight years before deciding to complete teaching credentials at the prompting of her professor. Kumar has been teaching in the district for seven years, and this is her third year instructing AP Chemistry.
It’s no wonder her “extensive knowledge has prompted many thought-provoking discussions”, as Kumar herself exhibits a love for learning. She invests time in reading scientific journals, attending seminars and conferences, and regularly listening to podcasts in order to stay updated on recent science developments. Kumar also takes online classes and will be starting a course on “Drugs and Brain” in the fall. A firm believer in tying concepts to real-life applications, Kumar supplements class discussions with knowledge from these various sources.
Most deserving of attention, however, is Kumar’s dedication to providing students with the best possible resources. “Everyone is meant to learn and grow, and I recognize that the learning pattern is different for each of us,” said Kumar, which is why she provides resources to accommodate varying learning styles. Most notable are Kumar’s self-recorded, Khan-Academy-style Educreation videos that encompass all of the major topics and labs covered throughout the year, allowing students to learn at their convenience and personal pace.
Kumar employs a “flipped classroom” structure, in which students acquire knowledge before class and then apply and clarify concepts during class. While students work on worksheets, Kumar circulates the classroom to discuss and clarify the students’ questions. In addition, she provides numerous opportunities for self-advocating students to come in before school, during lunch, or after school for further discussion, test reviews, and questions.
“Mrs. Kumar’s dedication to making her class intellectually stimulating and highly enjoyable definitely made it my favorite class in high school, and really captured the idea of the ‘extra mile’ that Stanford wanted to recognize,” said Wang, succinctly summarizing the basis for Kumar’s deserved recognition as an outstanding educator.