Meet Dan Taylor, WMS Science Teacher and Chess Club Leader
Next up in the Owl series of “Do you know your educators” is an Owlet all-time favorite. Full disclosure: there are several all-time favorites–the series is naturally biased toward those folks. If you have a favorite educator, send a note to the Owl (email@example.com).
If your kid has passed through or is currently at Weston Middle School, it is likely you will know Sixth Grade Science teacher, Dan Taylor. When asked about what they think of first when they think of Mr. Taylor, the Owlets (current sophomores at WHS) answer in unison “don’t touch my stuff.” Also things that explode in snow but the second is only available by Facebook video on the wonderful WMS page (thanks, Mr. Oates).
“Don’t Touch my Stuff” is a rule of life in Mr. Taylor’s classroom–because the room is filled with stuff you want to touch like in any great sixth-grade science classroom. Stuff like whizz-bangs, and beakers, and bones and dry ice and STUFF. Science-y stuff. When the science classrooms were renovated a few years ago, it is impossible not to wonder where all the STUFF went while construction went on. Someone had to touch the stuff. On the last day of class in sixth grade, the Owlets presented Mr. Taylor with a red sign reading “Don’t touch my stuff” which was there at least for a couple of years.
But here’s the news: appropriately monitored, the students do get to work with all the stuff and see how science is fun and occasionally yummy, and in such a way they remember it years later. Ask them a physics issue from ninth grade and you’re in a tough spot–when you ask them what material floated best on the very first day of sixth-grade science, they know. And here the Owl will credit Mr. Taylor for making it all fun.
Mr. Taylor will be retiring at the end of this school year, and in my usual biased way, I will say that is a bummer. Mr. Taylor is not only a science teacher, but also runs the after-school chess club, and I do not recall a single WMS theater production when he was not in attendance. The fabric of that school will have a small tear in it at the end of June 2023.
On to the Owl questions:
Owl: How long have you taught at Weston Public Schools? Always sixth-grade science?
Dan Taylor: I have taught at Weston for 21 years. In my first year, I was a math teacher. For the past 20 years, I’ve been primarily a 6th-grade science teacher, though from time to time I taught 6th-grade math and 7th & 8th-grade science.
What is your favorite thing about teaching sixth-grade science? What will you most miss?
Without question, the thing I will miss the most is interacting with my students. It is such a pleasure getting to know the leaders of the next generation and playing my little part in shaping their future. I continue to be awed by how amazing the human species is, and alas how horrible, but if the world could be made up of the students that have come through my classes, it would be a great place indeed.
What were some of your most challenging moments?
Teaching during the Pandemic was the most challenging professional experience of my life, but outside of that the most challenging part of teaching in a public school is trying to teach the way I believe is the best way to teach, experientially – emphasizing critical thinking exercises, while satisfying the need to teach to standardized tests. Fortunately, I am in a school system and have a Principal who believes in that style of teaching and helps us achieve it as best we can.
Did anything ever blow up in your classroom?
Absolutely!! And I’m happy to say only things I intended to blow up! Nothing like a good explosion to stimulate students’ interests. We have annual demonstrations just outside the school where explosions are safer. We look at Elephant’s toothpaste for example, but there are a couple of classroom-safe explosions as well, and who knew that you could burn steel?
My kids have strong memories of their first project in class (what floats longest) and your adage to not touch the stuff in your classroom.
It’s my belief that classrooms should be filled with interesting, thought-provoking stuff which means there are constant temptations for kids to mess with stuff. Of course, we want kids to mess with stuff, so it’s a constant battle to hit the right balance! Projects like our “Build-a-Boat” challenge give kids a chance to design and redesign boats to hold pennies. And the greatest thing about such a project is that after doing it for 20 years, I’m still not sure I’ve discovered the best design. The students’ designs continue to impress me and make me think. Projects like these help the kids learn how to think critically and creatively. This is what education should always be like.
When did you start the chess club? Did you know it’s become a huge thing for lunchtime chess in the high school?
I’m very excited that Chess is trending upwards at Weston High School. I hope I inspired at least some of them to get started down that path. When I first came to Weston I was kind of shocked to realize there was such a high-performing school system with no Chess Club. Though I am not particularly proficient at chess myself I decided to try to rectify the situation. Weston schools should be proud that they graduated one person (in the 1970s) who actually defeated a sitting world champion (in a simul exhibition, but still quite a feat). That person went on to be a Life Master and works with our chess players today. I am proud to have brought teams to tournaments around the country. I hope that the Chess Club will continue on long beyond me.
I think a couple of your kids went through Weston schools right? Which ‘cats class were they?
We actually homeschooled our children for most of their education, but they did get a taste of public schools at the Middle School. My kids were active with the Weston drama clubs and music programs and we’ll always remember those experiences.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m not entirely sure. I wanted to retire from teaching while I’m still young enough (61) to explore some new possibilities. Of course, it is always a challenge as an older person to find a job. I’ll be looking, perhaps, for a science job in a lab, or data analysis. I’d be open to using my education experience in some way, though probably not so much in a classroom situation. If anyone out there is looking for a smart, well-polished, very trainable professional please give me a call! I can always use good references!
And I always like to ask: what do you think is Weston Schools’ superpower…what we do really well…
There is no doubt that Weston Schools’ superpower is its teachers. I am most familiar with the Middle School of course, but I can tell you that there are some amazingly devoted teachers around me who not only are great at teaching academics but are working really hard to build community and help prepare students emotionally and intellectually for our challenging world. The next generation will have a lot of difficult decisions to make about the direction of human society and we are looking at our students holistically so that they can make the best decisions for the future.
Wishing Mr. Taylor all the best on his next adventures!