Jacqueline Katz brings her love for science to the classroom

June, 2022
Peter EatonJessica Chen

The start of the 2021 school year marked the tenth year of teaching for PHS Science Teacher Jacqueline Katz. Since 2012, Katz has inspired numerous students at the high school with her enthusiasm and appreciation for the sciences.

Katz neither thought she was going to major in science nor pursue a career in teaching. In fact, she originally applied to college as an English major. Nevertheless, as a competitive dancer in her childhood, Katz had been introduced to anatomy and nutrition at a young age. As a result of this, not long into her freshman year of college, she switched to a biochemistry major and, through tutoring, found an unforeseen passion for teaching.

“When I left high school, I wanted to be as far away from school as I could be. I was like, I don’t want to deal with people all the time, I want to be in a lab,” said Katz. “Halfway through college, I started tutoring a lot and loved it. So I totally changed majors, and I’m very happy I did.”

Now as a successful science teacher at PHS, Katz has taught primarily biology, but also a number of other science courses including Chemistry I, AP Anatomy and Physiology, and the Research Program. Shawn Chuang ’24, a former student of one of Katz’s Biology Accelerated classes, spoke highly of Katz’s attitude in class.

“She is always really helpful and a great person to be around. I’m able to crack jokes with her, which really helps make [the classroom] environment comfortable. She’s [also] very knowledgeable on the subject and always willing to answer any question,” Chuang said.

One major part of Katz’s time teaching at PHS has been her involvement in the Research Program. Katz was the first teacher to oversee the program, which has since grown from only her and eight students to three teachers and over 60 students. The three-year Research Program gives students an opportunity to follow their passions outside of the conventional curriculum and allows students to develop critical thinking skills along the way. In addition to the success that many students have achieved during this program, Katz has found this program especially beneficial for herself.

“I get to learn so much [through the Research Program]. My focus has always been biology and mostly cellular biology; we have students researching lobsters, crayfish, and even pigeons. I learn something new with every project [and] it always keeps me excited and makes my job feel fresh and different every day,” Katz said.

As a result of Katz’s dedication and passion for education, she was recently awarded a prestigious position at the Library of Congress under the title of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educators Fellowship. While this new position will mean that Katz will not be at PHS for the next year, she hopes to return in September 2023.

“What the program does is it selects educators and then places them in federal agencies in Washington, D.C. So I’ll be placed in the Library of Congress next year,” said Katz. “It’s an 11-month commitment to relocate to D.C., and I will be working in the Library of Congress with their primary source documents. My main goal will be to build out materials for science classes, which is really cool.”

When Katz is not busy teaching science, she also enjoys coaching teams from the PHS Odyssey of the Mind, a club focused on creative problem-solving.

“Odyssey of the Mind is definitely one of my favorite parts of my job. It’s a crazy club and I love it because I always learn something new from my students. They have always done really well with it and we’ve been able to travel to the World Finals four or five times,” Katz said.

Outside of school, Katz enjoys running half marathons with fellow teachers Alexis Custer and Jennifer Smolyn, baking, cooking, and reading. During the summertime, Katz also works at a breakfast restaurant by the beach to take a break from her teaching job.

While Katz enjoys her current position as a teacher at PHS, she is taking courses to hopefully obtain her administrative certification and one day achieve her career goal of becoming a supervisor. On a personal note, she also hopes to run a full marathon with Smolyn one day.

Katz appreciates that, despite all the changes that have occurred in the last year, her students have worked hard and stayed flexible.

“My students have really helped me stay creative and stay positive because everyone’s always got a question or something interesting to say. I’ll read [my students’] work and [they]’ll bring up a new perspective. It just makes me realize that we’re still learning, we’re still moving forward. As long as I remind myself of that, I’ll roll with whatever punches they throw at us.”